Tuesday, November 08, 2011
When I was a child, I knew I wanted to write and I wanted to be a teacher. Little did I know the convoluted journey my life would become and the unconventional ways I would meet both of these aspirations.
I did not pursue the traditional teacher’s route but worked in any different aspects of business throughout my 20s and 30s, elements of which I have applied throughout my career since. Being involved in business from the bottom up, including being part of a team that built and managed an arts-in-education nonprofit agency, has taught me a great deal of the nuts and bolts of an organization and building a constituency, as well as serving those people who benefit.
As an independent artist educator for the past 12 years, I have been in countless classrooms at every grade level. Over the past 6 years, I have been writer-in-residence in the Middletown Extended Central School District in Orange County, NY, serving two elementary schools, two middle schools, and one high school as an element of their district-wide literacy initiative. In addition, I have been in residence in two to five other districts annually for nearly 10 years. I have averaged a teaching practice of nearly 2,000 students and 70 teachers and teaching assistants in K-12 environments annually since 2006. I have also been active in designing and implementing school day and after school programming, as well as a considerable amount of professional development for educators, both within the duties with my agency as a program director and as an independent consultant to school districts and community-based organizations.
I have been listening to teachers copiously. Teachers are the key to student success but now teachers are expected to perform many duties well beyond their expectation when they graduate from a school of education. The climate is challenging and the demands are tremendous. But teachers are passionate about their students and the process of learning. Teachers also model life-long learning.
If we are expecting our students to succeed, we need to fully support their teachers with the resources and tools to meet that expectation. Quality workshops, comprehensive accessibility to new methods, media innovations, peer mentoring, a way to gauge and assess one’s own practice and learn from others are all essential. Additionally, the way a teacher develops his/her teaching practice is best supported by the mentoring of those with experience and demonstrated success of their own. The seasoned teacher shares and supports those new to the field and the new teachers bring an enthusiasm that can be a “booster shot” for the educator with many years in the classroom, along with new developments in the field.
We are also faced with a change of the classroom environment that is the result of the technological/digital evolution of the past 10 – 15 years. Proficiency in core content is necessary but how we deliver the lessons has changed in many ways. The need to train and support teachers, even those who are fully confident with all aspects of digital media, so that teachers are able to guide and prepare our youth for the world they encounter on the other side of the wall is vital to success as well.
In addition, with the current rhetoric in community and the political arena, community engagement in our schools has never been more crucial. Funding sources beyond the local, state, and federal funding for schools must be identified and maximized. Allies among the citizens of our communities must be fostered to protect our schools and their purpose, which is to develop our children into competent, informed, critical thinkers, citizens who will steer our communities in the years ahead, who will build and this nation as we move forward. It is more than the scope and sequence of learning, it is the wonder of discovery that teachers seed in their students. We need to also support that wonder and thirst in our teachers so they have the fuel they need to continue entering their classrooms with the enthusiasm than is transmitted to the young ones before them daily. The future sits in those desks. The future deserves the best and teachers deserve the ability to realize their own full capability as the foundation for that future.
Our nation needs to return to trusting that teachers are actually the best gauges of learning in their classrooms and that they are trained professionals who deserve respect for their career choices. Teachers know how to teach and are successful when consistently supported with adequate funding, resources, environments, and professional development. Changing the rules every few years, imposing testing schedules that seriously limit instruction time, and limiting creative inquiry in the classroom create tension in both students and teachers, which I believe is at the heart of the perceived failure of our schools, not the tenure process. It is short-sighted to think that the current national movement is an adequate solution to the problem and that teachers are the cause. Not enough of the decision makers in public education or the politicians have the experience of teaching within the constraints they create and legislate, nor do they understand the pressures in today's classrooms and/or what a child at any age may bring in with them from the home and the outer world. We must provide teachers the scaffold they need to shine and, in turn, for their students to do so. It takes each and every one of us to accomplish this lofty goal but I believe it is possible.