Teacher Voices: Geetika D. Kaw

Geetika D. Kaw, Jonas Clarke Middle School, Lexington, Mass., Age: 30s, Years of teaching: 10
[In the past], there was a level of frustration with what was being provided because we didn’t have much selection in terms of courses.

Geetika D. Kaw's tenure as a teacher in the same district for more than 10 years gives her a clarity of perspective on the waning and waxing of initiatives in Lexington, Mass.

Before the arrival of the current superintendent, Paul B. Ash, in 2005, she'd outlasted a "revolving door" of school leaders—and a corresponding number of professional-development initiatives.

"Some years we had a focus on technology, some years on differentiated instruction," she said. "There was a level of frustration with what was being provided because we didn't have much selection in terms of courses."

Now, though, having a superintendent who has a clear vision about focusing on raising academic standards for students and on classroom strategies for improving instruction has helped give a more cohesive theme to professional development, Ms. Kaw says.

The professional learning community—or content team, as it's known in her school—is the district's core professional-development strategy. In her view, it has gone a long way to encourage the development of a common language and assessments for gauging the quality of instruction, while still allowing teachers to seek individual help if they need it.

There's still room for growth in the system, Ms. Kaw says. For instance, she'd like to attend the 6th and 7th grade science-content-team meetings, in addition to the 8th grade one she now goes to, but the current school schedule doesn't allow for that.

Still, Ms. Kaw has discovered ways in which she can build on the structure at the school. One of her goals as department chairwoman this year: take over other teachers' classes on testing days, so that those teachers are free to observe how peers are leading their lessons.

"The key," she said, "is to let people know I'm available if they need help."

— Stephen Sawchuk

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