My Happy Days of Teaching
Oh, to be back in a classroom with no looming week of testing, observations, or multiple meetings. To have the flexibility to take a set of standards and benchmarks and plan a unit of study that was creative and fun, maybe a little risky, but engaging and motivational for my students. Being able to provide a variety of tasks, roles, and outcomes so students can find what fits their needs, academically and emotionally. Teaching was fun back then.
We need to bring back the fun in teaching. For teachers, that means a strong set of standards, a calendar with enough days to teach them, and a safe, stocked, and clean classroom space to accommodate the students assigned to them.
Having a teacher and a well-articulated, relevant standard is where it all begins. Let teachers choose the best instructional strategy. They know their students and what will work best. My go-to became a service-learning framework. What am I teaching and how does it relate to real world need? How can I incorporate youth voice in the planning stage? What are our academic and service outcomes? This instructional method resulted in motivated and engaged students who could articulate the standards and why they were important. Whether it be project or problem-based formats, or other forms of experiential or authentic learning, students will benefit and teaches will thrive. Could we ask for more than that? How about time to teach.
I used to love planning my school calendar. It was a functional work of art that kept me on course all year. Each unit of study, from hook to cook, all laid out. Each day labeled simply with a topic of study. A few days at the end for catching up, review, and assessment. Each day, with a few exceptions, was ours for teaching and learning. There seemed to be more time back then. In recent years, teachers have lost entire months for testing. This has impacted all other scales of time. Each minute is scripted. There is no time to breathe, let alone be the planned, prepped, enthusiastic teacher that is needed in classrooms.
A key element of teacher happiness is also in the teacher’s community. Most like it when they can share their successes and failures with each other in an unstructured, unscripted way. This is the most rewarding and beneficial professional development. Some like to plan together, maybe even create cross curricular projects. It now seems all time must be structured PD. These learning communities are also hampered by labeling, scoring, and ranking teachers, putting them in competition with each other. Teamwork time should be frequent and protected. Time for teamwork is critical and rejuvenating and will improve student achievement.
I remember a veteran teacher telling me in my first year not to worry about the newest educational program, test, or mandate coming down the pike. Just smile, nod, and go back to your room and teach your heart out, he said. “Education cycles every twenty years”, according to this veteran, “so this stuff will be gone and forgotten soon enough”. Not soon enough for me.