I am a fairly intelligent woman. I have a love of reading and learning new things, and a relatively benevolent interest in my fellow man. I have worked in different places and for different people. I have traveled and have friends and family all over the world. I have five teaching certifications ranging from first through twelfth grade, have spent time coaching teachers as a content coach in a school, and have several advanced degrees which required a high level of academic and practical expertise in my chosen field in order to graduate. I’ve also taught children as young as preschool and as old as high school over the past 19 years. I am, without trying to sound self aggrandizing, pretty good at what I do. I was one of three finalists for 2012 teacher of the year in my district, a district which has approximately 1100 teachers. I am not new but I am not ready to retire either. I am at a point in my career where I have expertise and energy and the ability to balance them against each other.
Now imagine knowing all of that plus:
~how to get the belligerent half boy-half man who is 15 in 8th grade and just wants to play basketball all day to actively participate instead of challenging you to become the alpha in the class because he is miserable without the freedom of being in charge of something he is good at and he won’t give up trying to be in charge of something, even if the ‘something’ is driving you crazy
~how to get the girls to stop whispering about the new boy while they surreptitiously fix their bangs in a mirror hidden in the desk where they think you can’t see it and get them to have a discussion about the motivation of a character in a novel instead
~how to take away a phone or iPod that isn’t being used for class without starting an argument or making the student so mad they spend the whole class interrupting instruction so nobody can learn
~how to get a class into uniform when they use their sweatshirts and jackets like young children use security blankets and really can’t understand why you care what they are wearing, particularly when you actually don’t care what they are wearing
Add to that the content I learn as new curriculum comes our way, the new tech I learn to try to make the classes more relevant, the news, articles, and websites I review in order to provide the best resources possible for my students and their families. Then add to that the professional development I get at work, the information I research as part of my classes and the various professional connections and obligations I have.
Got it all? Ok, now imagine doing/knowing/using all of that and having someone walk in and tell you that they know how to do it better. I don’t mind passionate people who want to work with me or help me do a better job but if you meet with me and leave me a photocopied packet or non-relevant resources and then come back a month later so you can test my student’s achievement you aren’t helping me and you aren’t working with me.
So…it is time stop and think. No magic bullet, no panaceas, no perfect curriculum or assessment system that will fix it overnight. We all know those things don’t exist and that the people who tell us they do are selling us something so it is time to stop and think and figure out what to do.
How can we, as a nation, a state, a district, a school, a teaching team, or even as a single classroom, better use the resources we have pouring into schools with no oversight, not enough training, and no way to see what improvements come from the new resources because we don’t wait long enough to see what progress the students really make? What do we do to make this work better? What resources are working? What are we doing that actually achieves long-term growth in the kinds of skills kids need to master to become adults who can effectively function in society as it exists today…and what about figuring out what they need to be successful in a time that hasn’t even come yet?