Imagine 1996, a young girl fresh out of college in the Midwest. She interviews with nearby schools and after the third school she is offered a position to teach in her own small town. This is a dream come true. Energy and excitement fill her as she sets up her first classroom. At this point, she has no idea she will start a path that allows her to impact over 450 students. There is no way for her to know how drastically education will change. Over the next 20 years this system she has passion and love for will change and attack and consume her, and she will almost let it destroy her.
In his book Life in Classrooms, Philip Jackson states elementary teachers have 200 to 300 exchanges with students every hour (between 1200-1500 a day), most of them unplanned and unpredictable which means teachers make decisions in the moment. These decisions cannot be planned for and no lesson is scripted because they are based on human choice, interaction, and reaction. Calculated roughly, this means teachers make 270,000 judgment calls, based off of their experience and expertise, in a school year. Teachers use the best of their ability and knowledge to make these split-second decisions in a classroom, all the while keeping 20+ students engaged in learning. Teachers are deciding how to defuse a situation, encourage a situation, help a student who is sad or confused or sick or tired or hungry. Using tools they gained during college and then honed and strengthened with in-service, experience, networking and instinct. Decisions change lives.
Teachers make these split-second decision in a classroom, all while keeping students engaged Click To Tweet
The media and many government agencies have put education in a negative spotlight. Decreasing teachers salaries and budgets without decreasing the needs for supplies, tools, classroom equipment and tangible items have been answered by many teachers using their own money out of pocket to make sure students have what they need. Expectations and demands have increased requiring teachers to be responsible for not only the learning that happens inside their classrooms walls but also for the bullying that happens off of school property. This means they are spending their time before school time, planing time and after school time meeting with students or parents to assist with social-emotional learning as well as academic learning. Each time something is taken away teachers find a solution, often at their own personal expense.
Teachers have been silent for too long. Having a heart for kids, because teachers are not in this profession for the money, we have a system of people who will do whatever it takes to educate students. The increase in teacher burnout has lead to a huge problem in this country and teachers have let this happen because they want to help children. The media covers negative experiences and sensational stories, but there are thousands of positive stories that go unreported of teachers giving selflessly for their kids. This imbalance has lead to everything becoming the teacher’s fault.
Having over 20 years experience in the classroom and in the educational system, I have to say enough is enough. I have a confession to make. I know many teachers have similar stories and confessions. But they go untold. This can no longer be the fact. I have a responsibility to the system and there are many things happening within education that are my fault:
Many years back I had a tough kid (he has not been the only one). But this child stands out in my mind. He questioned most things I asked him to do. He was defiant and often refused to work in the classroom. I spent the year building a relationship with him, setting expectations and then watching him continue to push his limits. He was “tough” and wanted everyone in the class to see this. I continued to work with him, for him and love him.
On a field trip during the second semester, we had the opportunity to go inside a KC-150 refueling jet. The students toured the plane and had a chance to sit in the cockpit. While his group was chatting with the pilot he asked, “What schooling do you need to be a pilot?” The pilot replied, “Math, science, reading, the things you are doing now at school will help get your pilot’s license.” I could see the shift in his attitude right there. There was a goal for him now. Back at school, to finish out the year, he was still that tough kid. But he passed fourth grade and moved on.
A few years later my husband ran into him in town. “You are Ms. Rice’s husband, right?” he asked. He then asked my husband to tell me thank you. He said he knew he made things difficult in my classroom, but he learned a lot and appreciated that he was always safe and welcome in my classroom. I am responsible for not only this future and the positive impact I had on this boy, but many others who will go without ever putting a voice to their appreciation. Teachers work hard and make an impact on their students by the choices they make to keep trying and never give up. It’s our fault when they have a positive experience in school which builds their future.
I remember another student, a small mousey girl I had in class a few years ago who’s go to strategy was to give up. She would work well until she came to something she did not know and then she simply quit. More times than not she had the ability, she understood the concept, but she lacked the self-confidence to move on. I spent the year putting her in situations that would both build her confidence and give her a chance to practice persistence. We had good days and bad days. She wanted experiences and tasks that were simple and easy. If things were difficult or she needed to share her thinking and explain herself she thought she was a failure.
We worked in groups often in my classroom that year, and still today. During a STEM activity, she had drawn her model and knew what supplies she needed. When it came time to share with her group she refused. Her lack of confidence forced her to sit without participating while her group came up with a plan and worked together to build their idea. She refused to share her idea and therefore forfeited her right to participate. Having someone question her idea was too much.
We continued to work in groups and she would continue to break down. There would always be a point in the work she would withdraw herself. During the spring semester, I finally saw the shift. Doing independent work in math one morning she came to a problem and faltered. This time, however, when I asked some questions to redirect her, she persisted and found the answer. The smile on her face was priceless. A few weeks later we had a project. Students could decide if they wanted to share their information visually with a poster, through an Adobe Spark video, or using the Green Screen app to create a commercial. She made a commercial! The most complicated project choice with the most possibility for failure yet she decided on this option. I am responsible for the self-confidence she gained enabling her to create and show a video of herself speaking to a class of peers. Teachers work with kids on persistence and teach them to learn from their failures. It’s our fault when they feel successful, proud and confident in themselves.
Teachers work with kids on persistence and teach them to learn from their failures. Click To Tweet
Love of Learning
The majority of elementary students love their teachers and love school, but not all of them. Picture a sweet round face with dark brown eyes, shaggy out of control hair and clothes that are a bit too big from being passed down. During my first few years of teaching, I had a student who came from a home that valued survival and family and fun. The school did not fit into this picture. Education was not a goal, but something you did because they made you.
In first grade you read, constantly. I read picture books to demonstrate and discuss math concepts, science, communities, places and of course to practice reading skills. He was a strong reader and I found I could not get enough books in front of him. As our year developed, the “ailments” to go see the nurse and escape class faded. As the year wore on he found inside our classroom there were stories.
Spring break rolled around and two days before the break he looked at me and said, “I don’t want to stay home next week!” Concerned and worried, I had a brief fear that maybe things were bad at home. This had never been a thought, but here was a child who did not want to leave school. As soon as I asked, however, my fears dissolved. “Why don’t you want to have Spring Break? Kids love Spring Break!” He looked up at me with those sweet eyes and said, “I know. And I get to stay with my mom and brother. But I don’t get to learn! I want to come next week and learn!” I sent him home with a huge anthology and a hug to get him through the week. When he returned he was all smiles and had stories of fun at home. I am responsible for creating a lifelong learner who developed a love of learning. Teachers bring passion and give life to learning in their classrooms. It’s our fault society has citizens who find joy and love in their careers.
I am no longer willing to let this system be attacked quietly. The negativity and destruction of what I love will no longer be tolerated. It is my fault students succeed, find passion, developed friendships, learn problem-solving skills, find confidence, do random acts of kindness, recognize global problems, consider someone else’s point of view, and a million other things. I do this quietly with little gratitude because it is my honor. I teach because it is a gift I can share with hundreds of families to create a positive ripple in my small community. I don’t ask for much in return. But it is time teachers are given the respect and honor they deserve. They are responsible for so much. They create the future!
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