Being a teacher is really damn hard. But I’m not talking about the workload, hours worked, papers graded, or anything like that. I mean emotionally – mentally – it’s really damn hard to keep your head on straight. We are always wearing multiple hats, often code switching on a minute-by-minute basis between coach & counselor, teacher, colleague, employee, and content expert. Then we have big picture things to worry about like pedagogy and philosophy, making friends at work, career goals, family, and the like. All in all, we’re overwhelmed. As a result, teachers burn out. There is the magical 5 year statistic that estimates that half of all teachers quit in the first five years. We also have the teachers that burn out but stay in the profession, often ending up as regular dinner table scapegoats. Then you have the grey areas – the teachers that “aren’t getting the message”, “aren’t getting with the program”, aren’t assimilating a new philosophy, or just plain aren’t playing nice with others. Quite contrary to my usual position, I’m here to defend all those teachers and to ask administrators for help.
This afternoon I was lucky enough to watch an expert panel that included Larry Rosenstock, Stephanie Rogen, Chris Emdin, & Ron Beghetto – all educational powerhouses in their own right. During the panel discussion, and the accompanying sharing of ideas with my colleagues, I had an epiphany. Why don’t administrators apply the pedagogy we all know and love to our professional environment? When our students seem stressed, disengaged, or burnt out, we have lots of teacher tricks, considerations, and interventions that we can use to reach them and reinvigorate their love of learning. When teachers present the same symptoms, why don’t administrators apply the same kind of thinking and consideration? We teachers are, in fact, learners. This might sounds odd so let me give some examples.
Student Symptom: This student just doesn’t seem interested and can’t get with the program. They aren’t working up to their potential. How frustrating!
Teacher Considerations: First – clear your own baggage and make sure your impression of their “potential” is genuine or empirical and not the result of something silly like their background, how they look, who they remind you of, or how they talk. Second – does that student have a voice in what’s happening around them? Are they empowered to determine their own trajectory, assignments, or projects?
Teacher Symptom: This teacher just doesn’t seem interested and can’t get with the program. They aren’t working up to their potential. How frustrating!
Admin Considerations: First – clear your own baggage and make sure your impression of their “potential” is genuine or empirical and not the result of something silly like their background, how they look, who they remind you of, or how they talk. Second – does that teacher have a voice in what’s happening around them? Are they empowered to determine their own subject area, grade level, professional development opportunities?
Student Symptom: This student always seems engaged and active but they just can’t seem to complete the work I assigned and they’re failing.
Teacher Considerations: First and foremost – can the student access the information? Do they have any bias for content delivery or submission? Has the information been present in multiple modes (visual, auditory, etc.)? Second – are they clear on your expectations? What are their expectations – do they jive with yours? If not, can you discuss the reasons?
Teacher Symptom: The students love this teacher but the teacher just can’t seem to get their lesson plans or expense reports submitted, and let’s not even talk about their email habits!
Admin Considerations: Is the teacher clear on your expectations? Have you considered how you are delivering those expectations (email, verbal, etc.) and when you are delivering them (early morning, passing periods, etc.)? What are their expectations – is there a system that would work better for them that you haven’t considered?
You may be thinking that these comparisons look like a stretch but stop for a moment and think about it. Take a look at these teacher-student strategies and reflect for a moment on how you would (or wouldn’t) like your admin to do the same to and with you as a teacher. Or better yet, what do you think about in the classroom? How would your job be better if your administrator applied the same considerations for you?
- An authentic interest in a student as a person – ensuring that not all interactions are strictly academic.
- Providing or arranging mentors for students where they can share significant experiences with experts.
- Being the one that notices. If a student looks sad, tired, or happy – making an effort to ask and find out why.
- Formatively assess students in low-risk situations and help them plan for improvement.
- Provide opportunities for students to excel, even if their strengths are non-traditional.
- Known your student well enough that you can customize opportunities or conversations to match their interests
In case my theorizing is way off, let me provide another perspective. As an engineer I come from private industry and I had truly fantastic experiences as a budding engineer. I had formal mentors to help me as I learned. Mentors that I shared significant experiences with. We did parts of projects together – they didn’t just give me feedback and send me on my way. Even once I earned my chops, my managers and supervisors were often out and about, checking in, and managing their human resources. We also had very regular discussions about my future, options for advancement, things to consider, etc. To date, I haven’t really seen that in education and I wonder why not?
What do you think?