October 20, 2009

We Have to Stop Doing This to Teachers

This post was last updated on September 5th, 2011 at 11:03 am

I been out of the classroom just long enough (7 years) to forget what’s it’s like. Not what it’s like to teach because I’ve been teaching, albeit at the college level but the I believe there are more similarities than differences. What I forget is all the "stuff" they deal with everyday. Some of this stuff has been there all the time. Dealing with parents who wonder why their kid got a bad grade, trying to come up with a new way to help your students learn long division, settling an argument that took place during a break or trying to figure out why your room smells. Those things will always be there. The stuff I’m talking may have been around for a while but it’s escalated over the past few years since I’ve been in the classroom.

Our division, specifically, is only 4 years old. Like all the divisions in Saskatchewan we forced to combine with smaller divisions to make larger ones. Ours is made up of 7 small districts. I would argue that we’ve done a pretty decent job of transitioning and building culture given the circumstances. But in addition to that our teachers are dealing with new curriculum, decreased PD time, new grading system, high expectations around differientated instruction, larger class sizes and increased accountability. These changes represent major changes for many teachers and the overall theme here is to insure the highest quality of learning opportunity for all students.

I’m fortunate to be able to work with great teachers who genuinely want to get better. They recognize that while the may be skilled teachers, they don’t have the time or resources to implement all the necessary changes that are being placed upon them. We have very little argument about the shifts to student involved assessment, student led conferences or brand new curriculum.Good teaching, while based on many tried and true principles always considers how it needs to improve. In general, they appreciate the work that the consultants in our division do. I believe that the vast majority of our teachers fit into this category. No one goes into teaching to be lousy. We have bad teachers, but I don’t that we have very many.

I also get to spend a great deal of time with our superintendents and other leaders in our division and to a person, they all want to create a division where students succeed, teachers are great and everyone loves their job. They aren’t interested in making people nuts. As a province and division, our curriculum and beliefs around teaching and learning is recognizing the shift in role of expert to learner. This is all good but simply telling people they need to change isn’t a great formula for success. Not that that has been the case but when I talk to teachers I’m hearing the same message.

"It’s too much"
"It seems the only things that are valued are Reading and Math"
"I feel like everything I’m doing is wrong"
"I’m not sleeping well"
"I need time to implement"

Something’s very wrong when a whole bunch of good people all trying to do what’s best for kids feel like this. Is this just about a bad system or are we trying to do too much too quickly? I’m not sure but if we don’t figure this out soon, we’re going to have problems finding great teachers to fill our schools. Maybe we’ve always have been saying these things, it just seems to me things are escalating. I don’t think the things I suggest here are unique to our situation. But maybe I’m wrong. We could just, "stop the train, slow down" and not rock the boat. But if we believe that change is envitable and necessary, how do we do that and not drive teachers nuts?

So please help me understand. Does the scenario I write about resonate with you? If so what are your thoughts about the root causes and solutions? If you feel differently about education, by all means share what has made the difference.

cc licensed flickr photo shared by Maria & Michal Parzuchowski