I had really planned to address the issue of teacher quality later on in telling my story. However, since this has come up on the comment page. I would like to share what I have learned this year.
What I have seen at Brighton is like any school, there are teachers at different levels of their career not only in terms of years of service, but in expertise. I really like Kappa Delta Pi’s book,Life Cycle of the Career Teacher because we are all at a different stages in this journey. It is my contention that in order for teachers to grow and improve through this process certain factors must be in place. There must be a professional climate to work in that is saturated with meaningful professional development and role models who are dedicated to the craft of teaching.
To establish a professional climate, as teachers we must first view ourselves as professional educators with a teaching practice. I taught almost 20 years before I really understood that I had a professional practice. This revelation came to me in the wee hours of the night while working on my National Board Portfolio. The questions continually referred to my practice and it finally dawned on me that, “I had a practice!” (in my mind only doctors and lawyers had a practice). I loved this concept and I used the phrase throughout my portfolio, “In my practice...” I used it so frequently that my colleague who did much of my proofreading would scratch it out every time. Maybe he did not know he also had a practice! Teachers must have this sense of professionalism.
In my school, I see a need for models of how this looks at various stages. I was blessed to have mentors along my way who demonstrated to me what it is to maintain a professional manner even in difficult circumstances, never start the day without being completely prepared, were actively involved in professional development, constantly strived to improve their teaching, and not embarrassed about being passionate about their work. I strongly believe it takes a critical number of accomplished teachers in a school to lead the others. I worry about a group of really strong, young teachers in our school and wonder if they will reach what The Life Cycle of the Career Teacher refers to as “The Emeritus Teacher” without sufficient models.
Professional growth also takes additional training. I am proud of the fact that this year our school has been deeply involved in hours of professional development that has actually changed many classrooms. Our improved assessments are the evidence that this works if the training is embraced by the classroom teacher. In my travels as National Teacher, I met a retired teacher from Warrior, Alabama. She told me when she was packing up her thirty-plus years of teaching, a note came around to sign up for a summer reading workshop. She registered for the workshop. Her colleagues questioned her for doing such by asking her, “Why are you doing to this, you are going home?” Her answer, “ Next year I plan to come back and volunteer to work with students in reading. Therefore, I want to learn the latest strategies and methods to help the students.” Now this is an accomplished teacher, trying to improve her teaching practice to the very last minute. This should be the standard for all teachers.
Yes, there teachers who never reach this level of proficiency and for a variety of reasons. I do not think any teacher enters the field with the intention of becoming ineffective. I agree that possibly somewhere along the way they became too overwhelmed by lack of support, too isolated or did not have the needed skills to become an effective teacher. Our schools must be places that have the type of climate where teachers can grow and improve by providing appropriate teaching tools, meaningful professional development, and models of teachers who are intense about their work. This year it has been quite an inspiration to me to watch a young teacher in our school voluntarily mentor a first year teacher. This young teacher has taken on a responsibility that many will not and she has given freely of her time and knowledge. I have wondered two things as I have watched her diligence. First, does this first year teacher truly appreciate the gift she has given ? My first year of teaching was in an isolated trailer and on the first day of school the lead teacher told me she did not work with first year teachers. Secondly, will someone be there to mentor her to the next levels to become a “teacher emeritus”? This is part of our role as teachers to give back to our profession and seek ways to support our colleagues in their growth so that there are no “bad apples”.
I continue to welcome your comments and discussion of the comments. Your comments are very thought provoking. I also hope that wherever you live you are enjoying a lovely spring. This is my favorite time of year in the deep South.
The opinions expressed in Teacher of the Year are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.