Saturday, January 24, 2015

Reader Response: Why Teachers Feel Bad

Valerie Strauss wrote an interesting/sad/scary/moving/important piece the other day after what appears to be some deep personal reflection about why she thinks "teachers feel bad" so much of the time.

The piece made me stop and think - a lot.  It made me think about those times I do "feel bad" and when I am full of "self doubt."  This piece made me wonder if all those doubts are really good as they appear to lead to my own "self reflection?  The piece made me wonder about those of us who self-reflect and rethink every lesson, comment, activity?  The piece made me think about my teaching of children learning to read and about my teaching of graduate students who will soon be teachers.  It made me want to start a program or at least find a way to support teachers who struggle.  It made me want to respond to Ms. Strauss.  She's a "newbie" teacher as those of us who have been long in the trenches refer to them.  She needs to know that I know how hard this work is - for all of us - every day.  She needs to know that even those who are perceived to be and or who really are "good teachers" struggle with classroom management, difficult students, mandated programs, and sometimes, administrators.  Those of us who teach grad students need to listen to her concerns so that we can do our best to prepare those who will touch the future.  

Dear Ms. Strauss,
First, I feel sad that you are so overwhelmed in your teaching.  I read you article and wonder what I would have written at your point in my own career?  I think I was overwhelmed at the beginning - most every day. I'm still overwhelmed at times.  I suspect doctors, lawyers, and snow plow drivers feel this way at times too.

I want you to know that I think it's OK to have "self doubt" if that means you stop and reflect on every lesson and every interaction with every student.  Why?  It's because every single one matters.  Every lesson matters.  Every comment matters.  Every response to homework just might make a difference in a student's life!  While I suspect that at this point in my career I could almost "teach with my eyes shut" from instinct, I sat there in my quiet spot in a tiny chair doing my plans late yesterday just like I always do.  As I picked out some new "trick words for the week and as I found some books that would be just right for my reluctant or struggling readers, I reflected on how I can help F become a little more excited about reading and how I can help J read when he is not under my thumb.  I planned every lesson so that I could make every moment count.  I jotted down some questions that would "hook them in" and some questions that would "make them infer" so that I would not forget because every single moment matters and I might just be too busy listening to them read and formatively assessing another student's attention to task to think of that perfect question that pops so effortlessly into my mind late on a Friday afternoon. 

I guess I've always questioned my own teaching and I really do think that is in part why I am a pretty good teacher.  I  have questions and I read voraciously to find answers.  I read professional books, websites, blogs, Twitters constantly even now, after 40 years in the trenches.  I've gone back for more degrees than I care to admit and even earned one Piled pretty High and Deep trying to figure out the best way to do this job I love (most days).  

Do you know what I found out along the journey?  I now know enough to know that I am not perfect.  Those pompous teachers (and administrators) who think and act like they know it all are really the ones with the most holes in their teaching and learning.  NONE of us knows the ONE way to reach all learners.  There is no one way. NONE of us knows all the tricks.  The more you know about teaching and learning, the more you know there is to learn!     

You made a wonderful point in this comment: "Teachers throughout their careers need a mentor who can remind them of why they’re teaching in the first place and help them work toward their dream."  While I disagree with your concerns about copying (I've learned to be grateful when I can make a copy) I agree totally with the need for life-long mentors, colleagues and a support system that carries you through the rough spots.  I've found mine down the hall and in those before and after school discussions, I learned I was not alone on this journey.  I've found mentors at conferences and at workshops. 

Yet, today, as my my focus is on both my own teaching and on those graduate students I am guiding, you've challenged me to stop and reflect on HOW I can be more supportive and a better mentor to all the teachers in your shoes?  

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