Change is a part of life, but it has not always been central to education. When I began teaching, there were some peers whose lesson plans and notes seemed to have been written on parchment. They hadn’t been changed in many, many years (if ever). And, there was no compelling reason for them to change. Every teacher was free to determine what curriculum to present, how to present it, and how to evaluate student learning. Every two or three years an administrator would schedule a cursory evaluation, the outcome or which was a foregone conclusion.
New teachers are entering a profession that is anything but static. The methodology of teaching has changed, in large part due to technology and the Internet. Curriculum has changed, in large part driven by state standards. For about the past twelve years, my school district has been overhauling instruction to address the California Content Standards. By-and-large, this has been a good thing. As a science teacher, I appreciate the fact that there is an agreed upon curriculum. I also appreciate that the California Science standards are considered thorough and rigorous by the Fordham Institute. Standards have given us an identifiable set of targets. They have allowed (forced?) a much greater level of collaboration in the profession.
Much of the effort that I’ve invested in the last ten years has been in developing tools and methods that allow us to know when our students have mastered content standards. We worked backwards, first writing semester “common course assessments”. Many of us have worked to develop a system of benchmark quizzes, which build toward thematic unit tests. Lastly, we are working harder than ever on multiple, daily checks for understanding so that when know when students are prepared for assessments that impact their grades.
We are now looking at new National Core Standards. Today, the California Department of Education announced that it will be changing the nature of our state assessment tests. I am working on the changes that are occurring in the AP Chemistry curriculum, which has an entirely new framework being put in place next year.
If it is your hope to cobble together some nice lesson plans, write some tests, and then use them for the next 30 years, you had better reconsider this profession. If it is your hope that the latest standards will be the end of change, and that the next state test format will be the final edit, you are destined to be disappointed. Change is now part of this profession, as it must be in a rapidly changing world. Deal with it, or go home.
When I was doing my student teaching in Santa Barbara many years ago, the adviser to the science teachers in the program arranged periodically for us to meet after the school day with respected members of the teaching community. One of those meetings, at Santa Barbara High School, was with a veteran teacher whose name I have long since forgotten. His advice I have never forgotten.
One of the student teachers asked, “What one piece of advice would you give to a new teacher just starting a career?” His answer was, “Buy a broom!” His answer left us all speechless. Fortunately, he went on to explain his rationale.
He told us that in his experience, it was rare for administrators to come into a teacher’s room. However, every day there would be one or more custodians coming into the room. With an entire school to clean each night, it could not help buy impress the custodial staff if they found your room already swept. The logic, he continued, was that eventually this information would find its way back to the principal. Without ever coming in your room, the principal would learn that you were neat and responsible, and this would result in good evaluations.
Of course, in this day and age, the assumption that administrators do not come into classrooms is nonsense. However, the wisdom of taking care of you own room in still invaluable. When you know that you are going to be cleaning up messes left behind in your room, you become more likely to teach students to clean up after themselves. You communicate to students that custodians are as deserving of our respect as principals and superintendents. There can scarcely be a more important lesson for students to learn in school. Attending to my room has become a welcome ritual at the end of each day.
New teachers should quickly learn that in many ways, your greatest allies in your school will be the support staff – custodians, secretaries, attendance clerks, groundskeepers – all of the people who are so often forgotten schools celebrate successes. Do everything you possibly can to make their lives easier, and you will find yours becoming easier as well.
And yes, I have my own broom in my classroom. When I retire, I’ll leave it for the next teacher.
I’ve decided to do some writing on teaching. Over the years, I’ve been the benefactor of some great advice and some superior role models in this profession. At this point in my career, it seems important to me to share some of what I’ve learned. Even if this is not read by anyone, the process of writing it will reinforce these principles in my own daily practices. I will be posting to this category about once a week, maybe more often here at the beginning, as I seem to have a lot of things bouncing around in my head.
Over the past ten years, I’ve seen a much higher turnover rate in teaching. There are certainly many contributing factors to this phenomenon, but there is no doubt in my mind that the continuously cloistered nature of our classrooms and our practices is a factor.
A Couple of Pages
At the beginning of my career, I was a regular subscriber to the Journal of Chemical Education. Much of the content of the Journal is directed toward research. I read a lot of technical journals early in my career, partly because I thought I might go back for a more advanced degree, and partly because I have always considered it important for teachers to remain “current” in the subject matter that they teach.
In the July, 1993 edition of the Journal, I came across an editorial (“Provocative Opinion”) written by Rubin Battino of Wayne State University. The article was titled “On the Importance of Being Polite“. It was a 1 1/2 page treatise on the importance of a teacher’s attitude toward students and teaching. I consider it the very best thing that I have ever read in a long teaching career. Consider that in 27 years, I’ve read many dozens of books on education. I’ve attended countless hours of inservice and other forms of professional development, and received hundreds of emailed links to insights and inspiration regarding this profession. Yet, even after all of that, this article is the single finest piece of advice I can share. That is the reason that I decided to start my “brain dump” with Dr. Battino’s writing. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I’ve given this article to new teachers, veteran teachers, and administrators.
If you’ve stumbled onto this page, do yourself a favor and click the link. It won’t take long to read.