One of my favorite books while growing up was “Choose Your Own Adventure.” Having an avid imagination and thirst for adventure, they were so perfect for me. I always liked to find out the ending before starting a book; that helped me determine if I should invest time and energy into reading it. Yet this book posed quite a conundrum for me- I couldn’t exactly figure out the ending until making the choices throughout the story. The complexity of the inconsistent cause-and-effect cycle kept me interested and wanting more.
Lately I feel like teaching in a public school is like choosing my own adventure. There is truly so much to choose from: Reader’s/Writer’s workshop, STEM, Project-Based Learning! Each challenge and adventure in the classroom yields results in a specific content area, and we can gain more knowledge about our students throughout the process of learning to teach these new ideas in the classroom. There are a lot of new, innovative ideas out there in the pedagogical world! But we spend so much negative energy complaining about the mandated expectations in our classrooms- the debate over Common Core standards, facilitating a rigorous curriculum, keeping students engaged, identifying students for interventions, writing IEPs, ILLPs, 504s, and countless other requirements. How do we bravely rise above all these “constraints” in education and just happily teach without restraints? When do we have time to choose our own adventure, and do we have the energy to passionately pursue it?
Recently I attended a church conference in rural northern California. It was very intense- 4 hours on Friday night and 9 hours on Saturday. We worked throughout our meals while learning a new curriculum. All the participants were excited to learn from each other, joyful about their experience, and happy to spend their own money and time during a weekend to increase their knowledge and make connections with a larger international network. It was so inspiring! Yet as an educator, I was embarrassed. When my fellow teachers are provided with professional development opportunities, even paid for them, they frequently turn them down and dismiss the chance to learn from mentors. I often hear and see cynicism, bitterness, and hostility when a meeting is scheduled for an outside observation to thoughtfully provide us with some insights into improving our instruction. I don’t know anyone who wants to videotape their instruction- unless they are pursuing National Board Teaching certification. You mention videotaping—you will see a teacher run as fast as they can! Book studies were recently mentioned at a meeting- “What? Make me read a book? I don’t have time for that!” Seriously! What has happened to teachers? Are we so overworked, overburdened, underpaid, and underappreciated that we just don’t want to try? Quite honestly, in my humble opinion, if teachers don’t change their attitudes soon and choose their own adventures, American public education will be dead within a decade.
Yes, I am a dreamer, but after 17 years in the classroom in 2 different states and 4 different schools, I think I can say with authority I have seen pretty much everything in the classroom. I am also a realist. I have the solution to recharging teacher batteries, so listen up.
Dear Administrators- You are busy. You get a lot of political mandates from the district, state, and federal levels which pressure you to stay on top of the educational policies. We understand. But it’s time to remember that teachers are professionals. We do not need to be micromanaged through structured Professional Learning Communities, planned RtI meetings, and countless other committee obligations. What do teachers need? Time in the classroom. When was the last time a principal said to me, “Go to your classroom, use your professional responsibility to determine priorities in gaining knowledge about your students, building relationships with parents, creating communication about data collection, and brainstorming/maintaining creative, fun, and rigorous units….?” It was 1998. That was the best, most rewarding year for both myself and my students. Trust.
Dear Teachers- You are overworked. You are underpaid. But you are still the captain of your own ship. You may not have the quiet, reflective time in the classroom to recharge your creative batteries and regain your voice. So you have to dig deep and find it somewhere else. Create a network of teachers who build each other up, not waste their breath complaining. Write grants to gather materials for your classroom. And choose your own adventure to passionately pursue! It might be exhausting at first, but in the long run, you will finish the school year, knowing it was rewarding to both you and your students. Finally, advocate to your administrators the need to have time in the classroom. Fight.
It’s time that teachers use their voices to defend what we need to survive in the classroom! We are the masters of our destiny, but our professional journeys may not reach the dreams we have hoped for unless we rally together and choose our own adventures.