Standards Opinion

A Veteran Teacher’s Blog on Putting Policy Into Practice

By Phylis Hoffman — October 26, 2014 3 min read
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This weekend I’m getting ready for the twelfth week of instruction, in my twenty-first year of teaching. I have experienced many things during the last twenty-one years on my journey as an educator. One of the worst times, attending the funeral of a student. One of the best times (besides student learning), sailing on a Hobie catamaran in the Monterey Bay while looking at plankton under high-powered microscopes. Currently, I teach second grade in the southern part of Los Angeles and my Monterey Bay experience seems very far removed from my current teaching reality.

A week ago I had to give our first district mandated common core math assessment, and now this week we must give a writing test. When I looked at what my district wanted for the math assessment all I could say was, “Would it really be so hard for them to ask a group of second grade teachers to come together and design the assessments?” Recently, I started counting down the years that I have left in my classroom. Not because I’m tired (or tested out) but because I want to make the most of the time I have left. Even twenty-one years later, I still want to be the best teacher I can be, which is why I accepted the challenge to write this EdWeek blog.

It’s been a long journey since I started teaching in a tiny K-8 Catholic school in Watts, California. After a few years and many encounters with students whose emotional lives left little room for learning, I decided to return to school to earn a Master’s degree in counseling. While working on my master’s degree I switched to teaching/counseling in a private high school that soon downsized. Along came the dreaded pink slip. My mother, a retired special education teacher, urged me daily to apply to Los Angeles Unified School District. I was eager to teach again, so I finally applied and was hired on the spot. That’s when I really lucked out. The years following were filled with opportunities - from professional development to insightful teaching experiments.

Eventually, the day came when my principal asked me to serve outside the classroom as the Title I Coordinator, so I did. There, I worked closely with an instructional coach on a reform program. Another opportunity later arose to become a literacy coach. So, I did that too. And while I cherished these experiences and the brilliant colleagues I met, I missed the classroom and teaching my own set of students; before long I realized I wanted to go back to the classroom. So, I did.

Today, I have been back in the classroom for four years. This time, as a Nationally Board Certified Teacher working in a school designed through a teacher-driven plan (I even worked on the design team). Outside of school, I’ve continued to pursue teacher leadership at my school, in the district, and also as an active member of Educators 4 Excellence (E4E) - an education non-profit working to elevate teacher voice in education policy - by engaging with colleagues across the district and writing policy papers. These experiences contribute greatly to my professional happiness because they’ve empowered me to lift up my voice - an opportunity all teachers deserve.

While I find myself content with my career choices, I remain unsatisfied by what the future holds for this profession. I worry for the lonely veteran teachers standing alone in the corner or worse, empty corners unable to be filled by able-bodied teachers. Whether inside or outside the classroom, I know that teaching is one of the hardest professions. But I don’t believe it needs to be one of the most frustrating.

I look forward to sharing my journey with you, and I hope to be a voice of support and encouragement in yours. Together, we can make sense of the 2014-15 school year, and I hope it’s because of what we did, and not what we didn’t do.

The opinions expressed in Teaching While Leading 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.