It was the end of August 2000. I was filled with excitement, trepidation, energy, and a bit of good old fashioned fear. I was not just starting my first real full time job, with health benefits and retirement, I was taking my first steps as a brand new teacher.
I remember that the computers in for my classroom had not yet arrived. In lieu of desktop computers I put up “under construction” tape to prepare for the open house where first and second students, with their families, would come explore their new classroom, and of course, scope out the “newbie.”
That yellow under construction sign seems like a lifetime ago. My desktop computers were eventually traded in for laptops and my chalkboard eventually gave way to a SMART Board. Except that in many ways, in my life as an educator, I always believed that my classroom, and my own professional practice was just that…under construction. New learning, new experiences, new groups of students and families each year made teaching dynamic. Always being someone who liked to reflect on her efforts, I tried to foster reflection and critical thinking in my students and eventually with the teachers that I worked with.
I was lucky. I taught in a place, a school, a learning environment, where feedback and reflection were encouraged. We worked for years to hone our mission statement and develop a common system of beliefs around the idea that every student could achieve at high levels. Achievements were celebrated, obstacles were seen as opportunities for change, and our learning community of teachers, administrators, students, and families grew.
But….and here is the rather large but….teachers, even GOOD ones, get tired. They get frustrated. They start to feel like they are spinning their wheels trying to take care of the paperwork that is now required in an era of accountability. They start to feel like there is no time to reflect and collaborate because they are always in meetings. They start to feel like their job is more a career in public relations or sales instead of as coaches and facilitators of learning.
Some teachers do public relations well. Others do not. And when you feel like you are doing everything in your power to do your job well, and yet the demands are added on to exponentially every single day, morale goes down. When morale goes down, efforts to learn new things and improve your practice is decreased.
The truth is that many teachers in many schools put in hours and hours of effort outside of the regular school hours each day. But I wonder…how valuable is all that time spent putting smiley faces on first grade spelling tests really? Or creating cutesy decorations for a classroom? Does that time really translate into good teaching? Or would time be better spent thinking about what worked that day, what didn’t work, and what could be done tomorrow to improve?
But when teachers feel pressed for time, the first thing to suffer is the amount of reflection and collaboration. Teachers that have report card deadlines and endless meetings are much more apt to spend a team planning time with very concrete tasks like deciding who is going to photocopy all the math tests instead of talking about a new instructional strategy or problem solving how to best meet the needs of a particular student.
The issue for me is one of relationships and time. Teachers do not have time to be coached or mentored. They want to go to a specialist in their school and be given the answer or materials that minute. Some teachers are leery of being observed by their peers afraid that they will be judged, when in fact observations and conversations about a what happens in a classroom are the most effective system to improve teaching….if, and this is a big if….there is trust and a relationship.
Granted, I have a very ideological perspective. I was lucky enough to spend twelve years in an environment where teachers could become leaders. Going through own National Board of Professional Teaching Standards certification made my reflective nature even more reflective. I talk all the time, even in the social media space, about the need for ways to receive constructive feedback to hone our practice.
Which is why I was thrilled to have the chance to read Mission Possible: How the Secrets of the Success Academies Can Work in Any School by Eva Moskowitz and Arin Lavinia. The book highlights the journey and process of growth of the Success Academy charter schools to develop high quality teaching through the idea that teachers and school leaders hold the keys to student achievement through professional development, frequent and immediate feedback, and high expectations for ALL.
Because really, don’t all of our children deserve to go to school in a setting where teachers and students rally around the idea of achievement at the highest possible levels?
I am thrilled to be able to provide one lucky reader with their own copy of Mission Impossible. This is a book that will inspire teachers and parents alike, providing examples of classroom tested ideas for SIGNIFICANTLY improving both teacher practice and student achievement.
To win your copy of Mission Possible (with DVD included):
Leave a comment about an experience that you have had, as a parent, or as a student that you think represents great teaching or learning.
Entries will be accepted until Monday, August 13th at 5:00 pm EST and is for U.S.citizens only.
I was compensated for this post. All opinions expressed are my own. It just so happens that much of what the book shared, I emphatically agree with. To the point that if I did not live in Virginia, or had not taken a leave of absence from teaching, I would want to teach in a Success Academy myself.