Shifting Spotlight

Caitlin Gawlowski Elementary, Life in the Classroom, Uncategorized

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“You are going to feel weird all year long,” a teacher said to me at the beginning of the year in my new position as Instructional Support Teacher. Like many veteran teachers trying to impart the wisdom they have gained through years of experience, she shared her experience with me about the transition from classroom teacher to interventionist and how it takes some getting used to.
“There is no way it will take me that long to adjust to not having a classroom of my own,” I thought to myself at the time.

Well, here we are now at the end of the year and I can confidently say that this teacher was absolutely right: I have felt weird all year long.

I thought she meant that I would feel weird not having students to call my own, only teaching one subject, or even having to be on lunch duty for sometimes more than two hours a day (thanks a lot for that, social distancing). Those were the easy adjustments. The most difficult one, the “weirdness”, is that the spotlight is no longer focused on me since I am no longer a classroom teacher.

Classroom teachers are the stars of the show. The spotlight follows them wherever they go since they are doing such important work with students all day long. Building relationships, planning and presenting lessons, grading assignments, collaborating with their team, and all of the other responsibilities that classroom teachers navigate day in and day out are hugely important to the functioning of a school building. The spotlight is (as it should be) squarely focused on them.

Interventionists and other certified support staff are similar to the people running around backstage making sure the show goes on, no matter the cost. A teacher is out with no sub? A certified support staff member is likely going to their classroom for the day. There is not enough coverage for lunch duty today? I’m on it. Someone needs to proctor make-up testing? I’ll be there. With the spotlight shining on the stars of the show, one might not notice the things that these support staff are doing to keep that show running all day long.

This is not the first time I felt the spotlight shift during my teaching career. The first time I noticed the spotlight had shifted was after I had been teaching for a few years. As a novice teacher, I thought the spotlight was on me: the things I was doing to teach my students, the engaging lessons I planned, and the bulletin boards in the hallway I decorated with student artwork. After I had been teaching for a few years, I realized the spotlight was never in fact on me; it had always, and rightly, been on my students.

This realization changed the way I taught and was a growing experience for me. I realized that if my students were making gains, it did not matter that my bulletin board should have been updated last week. My students were the true stars of the show, and I had to do whatever I needed to make sure they were successful, old bulletin boards and all. Now, I no longer have a classroom of students but work with students throughout the school, and in order for them to be successful, I will gladly shift the spotlight to where it should be: on their classroom teachers.

Photo by Monica Silvestre:


Caitlin was born to be a teacher, although she did not realize that teaching was her calling until she went to college. She has always loved to write, and began college with the mindset of becoming a journalist. Before beginning her freshman year of college, she changed my major to Elementary Education on a whim and has never looked back. She graduated Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor's degree in Elementary Education from Arizona State University, and won the Outstanding Student Teacher Award during her student teaching experience in the Cave Creek Unified School District. Caitlin spent 9 years in the classroom teaching 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade. She became a National Board Certified Teacher in 2018, and holds a certificate in Early and Middle Childhood Literacy: Reading/Language Arts. The 2021-2022 school year marks the beginning of her 10th year teaching, where she will be working as an Academic Interventionist, and supporting other National Board candidates on their journey toward National Board certification. If she is lucky enough to have free time, you can find her traveling Arizona with her husband and son, spending time with her friends and family, taking group fitness classes, or enjoying a good book.

Comments 1

  1. Rachel Perugini

    I took an AZK12 center training a few weeks ago and it was all about advocacy. The realization that I had was that without teachers the system falls apart. We need to start standing up for our working conditions because they are student learning conditions.

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