Teacher Voices: Corey R. Sell

Corey R. Sell, Jamestown Elementary School, Arlington County, Va., Age: 33, Years of teaching: 10
Sadly, I really think it’s an individualistic process for me. ... It’s usually me finding someone else to talk to or seeking out support.

Like any elementary teacher worth his salt, Corey R. Sell is outgoing by nature—thoughtful, articulate, and inquisitive.

You wouldn't expect someone with those attributes to have difficulty engaging in dialogues about the craft of teaching. But Mr. Sell, a 5th grade teacher, says his most rewarding professional-development experiences have tended to be those he's gone in search of on his own.

"Sadly, I really think it's an individualistic process for me," said Mr. Sell, who is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in education at George Mason University, in Virginia. "I don't think it should be that way. But ... it's usually me finding someone else to talk to or seeking out support."

That pattern developed early in his career. At a former school, Mr. Sell eschewed the glossy, activity-filled publications for teachers, and instead, borrowed copies of journals from his principal that discussed empirical education research and its potential implications for classrooms.

Sometimes, he's found talented colleagues who have been willing to talk about such developments, but there hasn't always been a structure in place in his schools to guide conversations about practice.

As for formal in-service training, Mr. Sell, like many other teachers, can recount both good and bad professional development. Over the course of his career, he's identified two common trouble areas in such training. One is practical—that such programs, while adding tools to his instructional repertoire, don't focus as much attention on how to deploy them in a classroom.

The other problem is philosophical, in that most such training requires teachers to buy in to a certain model, program, or philosophy, while discouraging modification. "I think it's a cultural thing about teaching," Mr. Sell said about that anti-intellectual subtext. "I don't think we really want teachers to think that much or that critically."

He is considering a permanent move to higher education.

"I really think it's the system that's pushing me out," said Mr. Sell. "It's not the workload; it's not the money; it's that the system [for teacher learning] really isn't bottom-up."

— Stephen Sawchuk

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A version of this article appeared in the November 10, 2010 edition of Education Week