During the first two weeks of the new year, I put over 1000 miles on my car, driving around my state to visit five different school divisions. Three were smaller rural divisions; two were larger suburban divisions. But, they all had several things in common. All were grappling with challenges related to funding and student achievement. All were concerned about what the new year and new administration would mean for schools. And, all were aware that they were doing an impossible job in impossible circumstances.
Yet, all seemed to have a sense of hope and a level of optimism that I certainly didn’t feel as I thought about the impossibilities…if we just work a little harder, find some more resources, increase our own enthusiasm, we can engage the kids in the content and help them learn the state mandated content by the looming deadline. But, while the test was certainly a driving force in their lives and the lives of their children, they also had personal goals for helping the kids learn to live, work and play successfully in the contemporary world.
They were trying to figure out how to balance all the demands they were juggling, always keeping the students’ needs firmly in mind. And, they were trying to figure out how to balance their own lives and work even while they are sponsoring clubs and staying late to tutor and sitting in the bleachers for the basketball game. Mostly, they were working very hard.
I was reminded of a post by Chris Lehmann in which he mused about a system that requires martyrdom to function. Chris wrote,
I want to celebrate every teacher who has made this job a calling. Thank you. But my concern is that this nation thinks that building an entire system around martyrdom is the way to go — that if you aren’t spending 80 hours a week and thousands of your own dollars, you can’t be an effective Title I school teacher. (And yes, I know that it’s not THAT much better in the wealthier districts.) We cannot build a national system on the idea that KIPP and TFA and the 60-70 hour work week is acceptable. It’s not.
So as I watch Jakob and Theo play, stealing a moment where I can both be a dad (you have NO idea how many breaks I’ve taken in writing this entry) and a principal (I’ve answered about ten emails during the writing too,) I have a call to arms for us all.
Every time we see a teacher celebrated for their Herculean efforts, let’s all be sure to ask the following questions:
- What can be done to support and sustain you?
- How can we change the system that more people can be as successful as you?
- How can we create schools where it does not require Herculean efforts to be a successful teacher?
These and other questions were part of my own thoughts as I drove all those miles. I’m going to throw out one possible solution for supporting and sustaining. It’s off the cuff and a band-aid at that, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Why doesn’t planning time count towards professional development? Every teacher does it, every day. That means that every day they spend a bit of time in reflection on what they did and what they are going to do. For most of them, they are alone when they do this reflection, sitting at their desks, jogging around the block or driving to the grocery store.
Most of the teachers I talked to have to turn in some kind of written plan to the office but they do not receive any feedback on it. No conversation at all, in fact, for something they do every day of the year. Maybe instead of having them sit through more drive by training, we could have them work together to reflect on their plans, to link their professional learning and growth to their professional practice. Because they ARE reflecting, thinking all the time about their plans, but they are doing it all on their own time and alone. Put them together, give them a chance to share, and suddenly all the individual energy comes together. Rather than having a faculty meeting to tell people things that could be shared via email, have a faculty meeting that starts with the question, “What worked in your classroom today? What didn’t work?” Simple questions with complex answers.
You don’t need a consultant or even a model; you just need time for talking. Time for exploring. Time for learning. Is that so much to ask?