Since I started teaching, towards the conclusion of every single summer, I get excited, anxious, nervous, and giddy…all at the same time. Another school year is about to start and I have a whirlwind of emotions, sentiments, and feelings swirling around that simple fact.
It doesn’t matter if I’m returning to the same school I’ve been at for several years or starting at a brand new school; I experience the same feelings. As long as I’m still teaching, I doubt the excitement will ever dwindle. The impending dawn of a new academic year brings a tornado of feelings that just can’t be ignored for many in the teaching profession. But, that’s what’s fantastic, amazing and incredible about the job we do; the rush of emotion, anxiety, and excitement reoccurs at the start of each new school year. I don’t know of many jobs where you get to relive these types of good feelings over and over again.
This Fourth of July, I was at our local park with family and friends, waiting for the fireworks to start, when an acquaintance walked by and stopped to chat. He checked in with everyone in the group, and then turned to me with a grin and said, “How are you enjoying your extended vacation? It must be great being a teacher and only working nine months a year.” Smiling, I explained that, actually, I was mid-way through my summer semester at the local university and just home for the weekend. He looked to my husband as if to check my story and then, laughing, he said, “Yeah, well most teachers are just sitting at the beach or in front of the TV. Teaching must be great.” I smiled and nodded, encouraging him to move on to his own chair.
In fact, sometimes I find myself feeling embarrassed about having time off in the summer. It’s like a guilty secret that everyone knows, but we avoid talking about. Now that the summer session is over and I have a few minutes to reflect, I wonder why it is that many of us feel defensive about the time we have to unplug and refresh ourselves. It seems that educators, and many other adults in the United States, think that we have to be running at full speed all the time in order to be productive.
As a teacher, I look for anything and everything I can use to connect to my students, and get them excited about the learning that is going on in my classroom. I am not afraid to take risks, especially if my students will benefit from them.
A few years ago, a colleague and I decided to take a risk for our middle school’s monthly “Club Day.” We were going to host “Dog Club,” where we would bring in our dogs (and have some of our colleagues bring theirs in too) and spend the day teaching the students about dog behaviors, training, maintenance, walking techniques, and much more. We had never brought our pets into school, and we weren’t even sure we were allowed to do so. After a discussion with our principal about the benefits of Dog Club, we got the green light.
By the time spring break hits, many teachers are counting the remaining days until summer vacation. How many times can one person be asked, “Will this be graded?” or “Why do we have to do this?” or “When am I ever going to need to know this?” I begin to question why I’m assigning a minimum of five typed pages when I know that I will need to read every last word. It’s not that I’m ready to quit teaching, but I’m always grateful to have the summer to regroup, take a few classes, and revitalize myself for the next year.
This summer I have received a special gift, and I’d like to share it with those educators out there who are a bit weary as well. I’ve been reminded that teaching is a noble and valuable profession. What we do as educators is important because we have the power to change lives.
When I was little, like many others out there, I kept a journal. Having read books like The Diary of Anne Frank and Zlata’s Diary, I too wanted to write down my thoughts. It was mostly the ramblings of my 10-year-old self, which segued into the drama that was my middle school years. To me, writing was therapeutic; when I wrote something down, I felt better.
It was great to be able to look back upon my entries and see exactly what I was thinking or feeling at that age. Fast-forward to now: I still am “journaling,” but in today’s terms this is called “blogging.”
I’m going to make a bold statement, but one I believe needs to be said: educators need to write, or journal, or blog. Education is quite a different profession than most; it is ever-changing—new methods and techniques are evolving while others are dying out, and it is constantly in the limelight. Given these conditions, teachers need to document what’s going on in their own teaching worlds.
I was visiting my mom not long ago when I had a compelling conversation with an old friend of hers. This woman, I’ll call her Ellen, is a formidable lady. She is smart, successful, experienced, the ruler of all she surveys. Growing up I always had a healthy measure of fear and intimidation whenever I was in her presence. It’s interesting that now that I am an adult, that really hasn’t changed much. What also hasn’t changed is my complete respect for Ellen as an intelligent and thoughtful person. I guess that’s why our recent conversation took me aback.
My English teacher roots are shining through with the alliteration in the title of this post! An authentic audience is something that I’ve found to be vitally important in teaching—and in getting high-quality work from students.
Some people may be asking, “What is an ‘authentic audience’?” In regard to education, an authentic audience is someone other than you; meaning, if a student writes an essay and you, the teacher, are the only one who reads it, that is not an authentic audience.
There is so much research and data that support the notion that our current forms of professional development (the “sit and get” style that we’re used to) are lacking in their impact on teachers and students. I often say that, if the amount of professional development equaled the level of student achievement, companies like mine wouldn’t even exist. After all, what we see again and again is that teachers aren’t lacking in professional development or training; they’re struggling to get the training content into regular practice in their classrooms.
The research on coaching is clear: true impact on quality instructional practice comes through a combination of research, training, modeling, feedback and, most importantly, coaching. Coaching is the relationship-driven focus on the technical aspects of the instructional “give-and-take” between the teacher and the students.
Now let’s move on to the “what” of quality teaching: the instruction and content. Delivery of instruction and preparation and planning are the two components of improving the quality of teaching. I have had the opportunity to coach thousands of instructional coaches in prioritizing their efforts so that they can have the biggest impact. Besides forgetting to coach classroom management first, I see a second common error: Coaches jumping right in to what the lesson looks like when the teacher is teaching the kids.
What coaches are missing is this: without a strong focus on preparation and planning, we are always going to be doubling back and trying to fix a preparation problem. Preventive coaching is a much more efficient and effective practice for teachers and students. We must put our instructional focus at the point of lesson inception: the teacher’s plan book, as most lessons are made or broken during the planning and preparation time.
There are two main components that underpin quality instruction: the context and the content. The context is the how of teaching, and the content is the what of teaching.
When you look at the context of quality instruction, you see that it has two components: classroom management and student engagement. Both management and engagement are totally and completely required in order for students to master the content of any lesson. Without the context in place, you’re just “teaching the lesson” with no focus on how well students are learning or engaging with the content.