What If? #4: What if teachers had it all?

Amethyst Hinton Sainz Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Literacy, Web/Tech

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I never thought I’d be writing this entry.

I never expected to be in a classroom with a 1:1 computer to student ratio, tables and desks, paraprofessional help, a coteacher for one period, lightning-quick technical support, a SMART Response system, a document camera, a complete online course system (Canvas), software and leveled readers to help individualize reading instruction, a body of data about my students with daily professional support in accessing and analyzing that data to help students, an academic coach who pops in and leaves me feedback, a principal who has been in my room each day, after-school tutoring interventions twice a week, a low student-to-teacher ratio, school supplies for students who need them, a copy room attendant who offers quick turn-around with a smile, a large collection of high-interest and high-quality literature selected to relate thematically to what we study throughout the year (stacked neatly in a cabinet in my classroom), audiobooks for most of my reading selections, a stack of grammar and vocabulary related games and flashcards, a well-stocked classroom library, an amazing array of online databases in the school library, and, the icing on the cake, a drawerful of prizes and treats left behind by one of last year’s teachers.

I also never would have predicted I would be teaching English Language Learners and some of the lowest readers in the school, sophomores who will be attempting to pass the state graduation test in a few months for the first time.

In my experience, teachers can easily get caught in a holding pattern:  Idea, obstacle, idea, obstactle, idea, obstacle.  To be fair I’d argue that we usually accomplish innovations, collaborations and progress in between obstacles, but it can still  feel like three steps forward, two steps back.

Often, when administrators begin to talk about accountability, such as the legal requirement that districts begin using student achievement as a significant portion of teacher evaluations in Arizona, teachers (myself included) begin the process of creating mental lists of the barriers in our teaching lives, barriers to helping students learn. But but, class sizes are ridiculous! But but, my students are all over the map! But, I only see my students three times a week! But, there aren’t enough books!  But, but, the computers are so glitchy the labs aren’t worth using!

These “buts” are absolutely valid, though not an excuse to give away the power we have.

What would you do if all the barriers to your best teaching disappeared?  If you were provided with all the tools and systemic support you could want? What if, as we already know is true, you had to come face to face with the reality that the most important factor in the success of your students is, in fact, you?

Frightening, eh?  Empowering, yes?  I’m finding it exciting, though I can’t say I’ve yet developed a complete vision about how I can best bring our team and all of these resources to bear on the needs of my students. The first day of school was yesterday, and I am knee-deep in figuring out the needs of my students. From the resistant sophomore girl who casually let me know that she didn’t remember her name on the first day of school to a sweet, fauxhawked Mexican boy who just moved to the U.S. two months ago, to a kind, social young woman from Burkina Faso who made incredible progress last year and practically lived in the reading room, I have the tools I need to teach them to the best of my ability.

I am curious to know what that will look like. No pressure, right?

My questions for you are:

1. What resources do you need to do your best teaching?

2. How would your teacher-talk change if you had the resources you needed?

3. What would you do to help your students learn if you truly had it all?


Amethyst Hinton Sainz is National Board Certified Teacher in Adolescent and Young Adult English Language Arts, and is constantly trying to live up to that standard! This year she will begin teaching at Westwood High School in Mesa, Arizona as an interventionist. She has taught junior high ELD and high school English in Arizona for 25 years. She has been a Stories from School blogger since 2012. Amethyst’s alma maters are Blue Ridge High School, the University of Arizona and the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College. Her bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing and Philosophy led her toward the College of Education, and she soon realized that the creative challenges of teaching would fuel her throughout her career. Her love of language, literature, and culture led her to Bread Loaf for her master's in English Literature. She is a fellow with the Southern Arizona Writing Project, and that professional development along with, later, the National Board process, has been the most influential and transformative learning for her. As a board member of the Mesa NBCT Network, she works with other NBCT’s to promote this powerful process throughout the district. She supports candidates for National Board Certification, and loves seeing teachers realize and articulate their teaching and leadership power! She enjoys teaching students across the spectrum of academic abilities, and keeping up with new possibilities for technology in education. Last year she had the privilege of running our school garden, and will really miss that this year. She is currently learning more about social and racial justice and is striving to be an antiracist educator. She lives in Mesa, Arizona with her family. She enjoys time with them, as well as with her vegetable garden, backyard chickens, and the two dogs. She also enjoys reading, writing, cooking (but not doing dishes), kayaking, camping, and travel, among other things.

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