About Laura BrownThe more I teach, the more my compassion for students, parents, and teachers grows. Thank you for reading my thoughts.My Students Are Getting Me Through This Pandemic – November 23, 2020So, How Is [COVID] School Going? – October 23, 2020Was Someone Actually High When They Proposed The Hybrid Teaching Model? – September 16, 2020The American Teacher: Savior or Scapegoat? – August 24, 2020If New York Can’t Open Schools, Nobody Can… – August 12, 2020School Reopenings: Let’s Risk it All or Not At All – July 15, 2020Summer 2020 Self-Care Plans? How About Training Chickens? – July 1, 2020I am a White Social Studies Teacher, and I am a Coward – June 7, 2020Are you in a Relationship with Remote Learning? It’s Complicated. – May 28, 2020Teaching During A Pandemic: Where The Grades Don’t Count, And Everything Is Made Up – May 5, 2020Happy 2019! I know that for most teachers the “new year” begins on the first day of teaching in either August or September. However, the calendar does not lie–2018 is history–it’s January 2019, the midpoint of the teaching year, which offers an opportunity for reflection. In my school district the year 2020 is the focus year of every grand initiative. Therefore before we reach the futuristic year of 2020, let’s resolve as educators to do the following during the final year of this decade:
If you are sick or mentally drained, take the damn day off. (Yes, substitute plans are a hassle; no, the students will not learn as much as they should.) Take the day; you need it. Put your oxygen mask on, and you will be a better teacher, parent, spouse, and friend. Practice self-care. The Educator’s Room has many resources and conferences available. Teaching is a marathon, not a sprint.
Open your door and teach. During a difficult time with the administration in my previous school, I was advised to close my door and focus on the students to avoid school politics. Although I tried to take that wisdom, it only led to feelings of alienation and bitterness. I felt like the adult drama was poisonous to my classroom. Furthermore, educators have obligations to defend their students’ best interest–sometimes we need to fight the good fight. So, I challenge my fellow teachers to open your doors, collaborate with your colleagues, take a stand when policies impact students negatively and make the best out of what is a broken system.
Shake up your lessons. I heard my oldest daughter yell down the hall to her younger sister: “Hey, do want my sixth-grade materials? They will probably do the same things with you next year!” My younger daughter declined the offer, and I hoped that my students do not offer my materials to their siblings. I hope that my lessons are fresh and engaging. What is the fun in having the same school year every year? It would be like the movie Ground Hog’s Day, where Bill Murray repeats the same day–no thank you!
Lead or join a professional book club. Two titles that engaged myself and my colleagues recently have been: Jeff Zwiers’ work: Academic Conversations: Classroom talk that fosters critical thinking and content understandings and Judith Hochman and Natalie Wexler’s The Writing Revolution: A Guide to Advancing Thinking Through Writing in All Subjects and Grades. We met weekly to discuss chapters and taught each other how we could implement best practices. I learned a great deal from the texts, but I also found greater respect for teachers of different disciplines. Professional book clubs are at the heart of the teaching craft.
Make authentic connections. The teacher life is hectic. However, I challenge all of us to make our relationships stronger. Find ways to have conversations with your students, with the school staff and with your fellow teachers. Have coffee in the morning with people (I spend fifteen minutes most days with a group of women who keep me sane and make me giggle). Go to happy hour, even if you drink soda.
Write/rewrite your educational philosophy and then live it. When I was a part-time adjunct professor at a local college, I asked undergraduate students to write their philosophy of teaching. Every semester that I taught that course, I rewrote my philosophy and then attempted to implement my ideas into my “day” job. Questions to consider: What is your philosophy on how students learn best? How will you know that learning has taken place; which tools will you use to measure student success? How do you define success? What is your ideal classroom environment (both the set-up and the relationship between teachers and students)?
Mentor. Did you have a mentor? I know mine was invaluable. However, I have not taken a student teacher in years, like in over fifteen years. I found my experience with student teachers draining, and I am hesitant to repeat the task. So, if you are likeminded, maybe you push yourself out of your present comfort zone and invite a pre-service teacher into your classroom. Or, if a student teacher seems overwhelming, perhaps you check on that new teacher or that teacher who has recently returned from maternity leave. In any case, mentoring offers a chance for more experienced teachers to share methods and to learn new techniques as well.
Advise or coach. Teaching has seasons. In my early twenties, let’s call it the Autumn of my career I was newly married and childless–I had plenty of time to advise clubs and student activities. I enjoyed that time in my job, but as I became a mom my energy level was more like winter time, as I had less ability to advise or coach. Now, I am in the spring of my career (which I like to call the last ten years before retirement). Last school year, I tentatively took on the role as advisor to my school’s Step Team. Wow, what a game changer advising has been! I am more connected to students, and I am seeing the benefits of student leadership and student-run productions. If you are in the “season” of your career where you have time, I highly encourage you to advise or coach–you will gain more than you will give.
Follow great thinkers. There are many organizations and individuals who are discussing the teaching profession, instruction, and current issues in education. I highly encourage you to follow Fran Warren’s The Educator’s Room, Angela Watson’s The Cornerstone For Teachers, Jennifer Gonzalez’s Cult of Pedagogy, and Steven Singer’s Gladfly on The Wall blog. These four sites are my go-to resources, offering a range of perspectives, insights, and tools for educators.
Take Action. Support public schools. 3.2 million people are teaching in public schools across America. Let that number sink in. It is a large number of dedicated professionals earning disparate salaries, insurance benefits, pension plans, union membership, and teaching resources. Collectively, educators need to rally for funding which supports public schools. I highly recommend that you request to become a member of the Bad Ass Teacher’s Association and the March For Public Education’s Facebook groups. We need to elect pro-education candidates who will resist groups like the Gates Foundation’s donations. We are on the cusp of a teacher shortage–we need to improve the profession to save it. In the words of Dr. King: “If not now, then when? If not us, then who?”
Happy new year!
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The more I teach, the more my compassion for students, parents, and teachers grows. Thank you for reading my thoughts.
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