Monday, March 24, 2014

Slice of Life - Qualities of a Great Teacher



Slice of Life is sponsored on Tuesdays by Two Writing Teachers. For the month of March we are posting a slice each day on our blog. Join in!

This morning I stumbled upon this Tweet from a friend and fellow educator and paused:



Of course, teaching is my passion. I think about it often. On time off from school, I work. I plan. I read and write about my job. It is what I do. But is it fair to expect that from all teachers?

A friend on Facebook also linked me to this article in The Atlantic today. In researching the impact of parental involvement on a child's education they found that one of the biggest factors of a child’s success in school was the teacher. Specifically, parents requesting the best teachers. A great teacher's impact is not new, I’ve read this in a multitude of research studies.

With these two questions/ concepts swirling in my brain, I couldn't help but feel like we have more pressure as a professional than ever before. We need to be teaching children to be prepared for the 21st century. We need to conform to a new set of standards, a new testing system. Students should have technology embedded into their lessons – but the learning should be authentic. Our classrooms should have fabulous classroom libraries, be able to accommodate group work and individual learning, and be engaging environments where kids want to learn.

I understand the importance of all of this and believe in it – well, maybe not the testing. However, I am struggling where we hold teachers accountable. I spend too much time thinking about school. I don’t think every teacher should necessarily be required to do the same. I spend thousands (yes, plural) on a yearly basis on my classroom – specifically the library. Should other teachers be judged if they don’t? I don’t think so. At some point my family might want to go on a vacation instead. Or remodel our kitchen.
J This made me wonder, what are my non-negotiables. What should all teachers “have”? I sat down and brainstormed a list.

I think teachers should:

Have a passion for learning. This is free and doesn’t necessarily mean you have to devote all of your free time to work.

Have a love of teaching. Again, free. I love helping kids understand concepts. I love seeing the light bulb moment.

Be well read – professionally and for their students. My students read because I read. I share my reading life, I recommend books, and I show them what a reader looks like. I love that I know math teachers (Brian) and AP Chem teachers (Alaina) that read what their students are reading and recommend books to them. I believe the impact of those acts are immeasurable.

Enjoy spending time with kids. You wouldn’t think this even needed to be stated…

Foster relationships. Without relationships there is no teaching. Period. That is where I begin the school year – creating relationships between myself and my students, myself and their parents, and our classroom community. This is my top non-negotiable.

Teachers do have a huge impact. I know many teachers today aren’t sure if they would recommend the job to someone just starting out. The pay is not great, the time commitment can be tough, and the pressure is huge. That being said, after eighteen years teaching – in private schools, public schools, urban areas, rural areas – there is nothing I would rather do. So, after all of that, I came to the conclusion that teachers do need to have a passion for the profession, it just doesn't need to consume their lives as much as it does mine.

What do you think? Is it ok for teaching to just be a job and nothing more? What are your non-negotiables? I’d love to continue this conversation and learn from all of you in the comments. Have a great Monday! 

25 comments:

  1. Before I went back to school and got my credential 5 years ago (at the age of 50), I had been a chef and run a kitchen staff or two. The long hours, the physical demand of being on your feet all day, the multi-tasking and keeping track of how everyone is progressing was remarkably good training for the rigors of teaching. When I began my cooking career I carried cookbooks with me everywhere; I read the Joy of Cooking from cover to cover, and that was BEFORE I went to cooking school. The stakes are higher with teaching. I am not making a meal, I am preparing a child for next steps and modeling what it is to be a hard working, loving, passionate learner and adult.
    I agree with your list 100% and see myself in it, but more in attempt than practice at this point. The one thing I would add to the list is Be Reflective of Your Practice- everyday.

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  2. Love the comparisons to being a chef. Nice. And reflection is a must! Great addition.

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  3. Katherine This is such an interesting and important post. I so agree with you about each point you have made. I just kept nodding. I have been teaching for about twenty years and wrote a post this fall about what I have learned after all of this time: http://thereisabookforthat.com/2013/09/15/20-years-20-things/ I talked about some related things - like the power of relationships. The one thing I might add to your list would be to share our stories. This is one, how we learn so much and take it back to our students and two, allows us to advocate for our students and their best interests. Thank you for posting this today and giving me lots to think about over my morning coffee.

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  4. Well said. For all the best teachers, teaching is never just a job, but a Calling. I believe in order to be truly great, teachers MUST have passion for what they do. There is so much in our job that can easily, overwhelm you - low pay, long hours, difficult students/parents, paperwork, testing and the list goes on. Those teachers who are not passionate about what they do, can so easily succumb to negativity and burnout. We've all seen what that looks like. In order to rise above the challenges, passion and the willingness to be a lifelong learner are 'non-negotiables' in my book. And I don't believe we should ever apologize for going above and beyond what's 'required' of us as teachers. Our students are the ones who benefit and, in the end, isn't that what we should be striving for?

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  5. Teaching can not be just a job. If that is how we view we are doing a great disservice to the students who are entrusted to us. I never view teaching as just my job and even though I am now retired, I still stay active in teaching through our local Writing Project.

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  6. I don't want my child in a class where the teacher views her position is just a job. There has to be passion for the task of teaching children. If you don't have passion, find another profession.

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  7. I want to leave money aside from this discussion, because sadly I think we do lose teachers because they cannot make a good enough living unless their spouse/partner is also making a good salary too. I just had my taxes done by my accountant of many years, & although I imagine he does make a bigger salary, I still value his expertise, his continuing to 'keep up' with tax laws, and in our relationship, I feel he takes good care of me because he "knows" how. Teachers should be first passionate about children, want to be with them, glory over their growing up, wish the best for them in every way. My accountant truly seems to love his work, he loves numbers & the intricacy of the tax laws, he wants to do a good job for the clients. I can't imagine doing any job without being passionate about it. I agree with all the wonderful words others have said, & you also, Katherine, but will add one more thing. If we have high expectations for our students, in all areas, why would we not hold the same standards for ourselves?

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  8. Teaching cannot be "just a job" for all the reasons you so eloquently outline, Katherine. But, the way education is structured these days, so much of our freedom to devise enriching curriculum that is developmentally appropriate is quickly being taken away. In New York, they have modules - scripts, essentially, from which to teach. And, of course, we are constantly prepping for tests, or administering evaluations for our SGO's. And then there is the constant fight for time and money to attend conferences and find ways to grow in our profession. In New Jersey, there is not a conversation about teachers that does not include reference to us as "union thugs". I despair about our profession, even as I love it and live for it. Sad times, we are living in sad times. I loved Diane Ravitch's speech at TC last Saturday, but it was hard not to hear it and NOT be depressed. How can we ever change the course we are on when so few are listening?

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  9. As a young teacher who loves and has a true passion for teaching, I am beginning to see that my own expectations for myself as a teacher are unreasonable. I am only one person and the amount of energy I currently put into my job is unsustainable. I have to figure out a plan for the future because I truly would like to keep teaching after I have children. I think it is a good idea for all teachers to define what is most important to them and use that to help control their workload. At the end of the day teaching is a job and we cannot continue to expect all that we do out of teachers without giving them supports to do their jobs well.

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  10. I came to teaching later in life. I am 44 but am only in my 5th year of teaching. I finally found what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I LOVE my job. I love my kids - I, too, treat them like they are my own. I think I am a better teacher because I had children of my own first. I am a single parent and spend money I really have no business spending on books for my library, but I can't seem to help it. I am currently on spring break, but I am thinking about the rest of the year and how to tackle it - along with catching up on reading books to recommend to my kids, to reading blogs of teachers that I am in awe of and inspired by. This is who I am. The other teachers in my team do not do these things, but that's okay with me. They're really good teachers; they just aren't as obsessed as I am. Sometimes I do need to take a break, but most of the time I am just very thankful for where I get to teach and just keep going.

    Janie

    Are We There Yet?

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  11. I read your post earlier today and have been thinking about my first reaction and whether or not I should comment. I love my job! I believe in all of our non-negotiables. But the line that struck me is this: "Should other teachers be judged if they don't" What about when teachers are judged because they do? I had a conversation with another teacher this year about what all I wanted to get done teaching-wise during a break. She joking said that I needed to get a life. Now, she laughed, but I know she was serious. So what about those teachers who may be jealous, or think we are favorites because we do have great relationships with our students, we do spend excess money on books, we do professional development presentations, we do the extra things that make our job a blast and we are noticed because we do? Why should we be judged because we have those qualities of a good teacher? That was what stuck with me today! Thanks for writing.

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  12. Leigh Anne - yep, I know what you are talking about. When I joke that my hobbies are my job I get a lot of comments. I figure I just do what makes me happy and move on. :)

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  13. Love that you came to teaching later and have that passion!

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  14. Support is important. And when I first taught - and had no children - I basically lived at the school. As I have gotten older, and have kids, I learn to work smarter, not harder. The ability to do things from home on my laptop has helped tremendously as well.

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  15. I feel that change is coming. When I look at the overall picture, I get horribly depressed. But when I work in my classroom, my school, I am ok and know that I am lucky for that.

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  16. Yes, we do. We've lost several good teachers as a result of money. But I love your comparison to your accountant - just as I would like my doctor to be passionate about his field so he can treat me best. And, of course, I set those same expectations for my students. Great points.

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  17. Love that you are still active in the writing project!

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  18. Absolutely that is what we should be striving for.

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  19. Sharing our stories is something I keep coming back to this year. So important.

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  20. I wish I could say that I shared your optimism, Katherine, but the more I talk to teachers and become aware of the changes that are being put in place right now, the more I despair. It will take a long time to turn back this clock, now that it seems to be in motion. There are plenty of pockets of the good, but we are the lucky few.

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  21. I can relate!! I feel like extra reading, professional learning or positive talk about students are frowned upon by our staff too. I have had co-workers laugh when I wanted to start a book club for students and ask, "Why?" I really would love to have a teacher book club, but I know better than to ask. Our staff is very burnt out and often spend lunch brainstorming alternative jobs instead of teaching. That is often the most discouraging part of teaching for me, not students or parents, but my co-workers negativity.

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  22. I love this post and the comments, too. I pretty much agree with your list, and I will add one more. It also probably seems like a no-brainer, but I think teachers have to really believe in their students. I know not everyone shares my student-centered philosophy, but the longer I teach (and it has been a LONG time) the more I believe that students have to own the learning. I am tired of having to undo the work of other teachers who trained their students to be passive learners, waiting to be told what, when and how to learn.
    I have worked with many teachers who will not allow students to blog because a public mistake might make the teacher "look bad." I once gave a teacher some rubber alphabet stamps, and the teacher told me she couldn't trust second graders to use those because they might make a mess with them.

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  23. I so relate to this, too. I know that it is unrealistic to expect every teacher to be as passionate as I am, but those are the teachers I most want my own children to have. If I were an administrator who was responsible for hiring, I would seek out those with passion and might have less tolerance for the "just a job" folks. Yes it is a job, but no, it is not just a job.

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  24. I love this post and it made me think about what's important to me when it comes to teaching. Similarly to another post, I came to teaching after being home with my children for several years. I'm 44 and I've been teaching for 7 years.

    I agree with everything you said and I'd add one more: I have to believe that all of my students are capable of excellence. While I understand teacher's frustration with the lack of effort of many students, or lack of capabilities, the day I call a student "dumb" or an "idiot" as I have heard many teachers say in the faculty room is the day I hang up my smartboard pen and leave the profession.

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