Under Attack

In a stack of papers called Reform.

  • May
  • 05
  • 2006

After a moderately heated exchange of rhetoric in a recent staff inservice session, another teacher questioned my professionalism. Here’s the line of thinking that lead to that declaration.

My Ideas

As an educational community, we should be open to folks coming into our classrooms and offering suggestions about how we might do something better. An additional perspective is something many classrooms woefully lack. During any given class period, it’s darn near impossible to keep everything in mind that teachers need to.

Attendance, Johnny’s acting up again, writing prompt, this group is off task, need to switch to the next activity, answer questions, deliver instruction on this technique, more groups off task so need to switch methodology, individual instruction will work here, group instruction there, announcements… And that’s just during the first 5 minutes of the period. All of those things occupy even the most intricate mind during a class period, so also watching out for how to improve the teaching usually happens during any reflection time, but rarely can be done in the moment. And I can practically count the number of teachers who actually do any serious reflection on the day’s events, those teachers who honestly evaluate how the day went and ways to improve.

Further, a teacher is capable of distancing himself from the events in the class only so far. The teacher is too close to the events in the classroom and regularly has a vested interest in a particular course of action that colors the perception of things. Not to say that a professional educator cannot discover new and more effective ways of doing things on his own, but to have a distanced observer would add a new layer to the discussion and would likely reveal things that would otherwise be invisible to the teacher.

While it’s certainly possible to observe the goings on with an objective eye on alternatives, doing too many things at once means that none of them are done to the highest degree of quality. Yamaha produces many different products, but few of them are really top-notch; those fax-answering machine-stapler-photocopy-printer-can opener-juicer all-in-one machines rarely perform each task at optimum level. Spreading too thin means that only a few things will be done as well as they all should be.

We spread teachers too thin when sole responsibility for improvement of the craft rests on their shoulders in isolation. There will be improvement, but only to a certain extent, only as far as the teacher can see.

Not My Ideas

Some may argue that this is an insult to the profession, that to suggest someone else has a way to do it better means that we don’t have the best ideas in place. To allow someone from an organization outside to observe a class and offer tips to improve instruction suggests that there’s something in need of improvement. That suggestion means that you are not the best teacher for the job and that someone could do it better.

To admit that you are not the best teacher for the job means that it’s true and you shouldn’t be in the classroom. To state that you aren’t sure your method of delivery is the best means that you haven’t perfected the art of teaching.

A Strong Suggestion

If you agree with those last two paragraphs, quit teaching. If you really feel like you are reaching 100% of your students 100% of the time, quit teaching. If you think it’s an insult to the profession of teaching to admit any weakness, quit teaching.

Yes, That’s What I Said

“As soon as you feel like you’ve arrived, you are the furthest away from your goal.”

And as those words were uttered by yours truly, that other teacher pointed at me and said that my professionalism was under question, that s/he would not hire me if s/he was an administrator. All because I suggested that I don’t have the final answer and I wouldn’t mind someone coming into my classroom and making suggestions about how I can improve.

Interesting, no?

A True Profession

Once again looking to the medical community as the city on the hill of professionalism, as new research comes about to improve medical practices, doctors are made aware of them, attend training on the methodology, and go back to institute the new practices in their clinics. I’m not sure if anyone sits in on an operation to observe and offer suggestions, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

New ideas and new research come to light throughout the medical community through a variety of channels. I’ve always assumed that medical publications are widely read by doctors, but I suppose I don’t know that for sure. Certainly, there are slacker doctors just like there are slacker teachers who don’t really care to change anything they are doing, regardless of whether or not it’s effective. Still, I have this sense that doctors need to stay on top of the latest innovations in medicine because they never want to be in a position where patients know more about a disease or treatment than doctors do.

In education, new ideas and new research come to light only for those who seek it out. It’s entirely possible that teachers are in classrooms across this nation who have not had any instruction on how to teach since 1965, who have not bothered to stay in touch with the way society is changing, and who have not bothered to adapt to the way teenagers have changed across the decades. We may all disagree on many things, but I’d hope we can agree that a lot has happened in our society and to teenagers since 1965, 1975, 1985, or even 1995.

Those with outdated ideas and no motivation for updating those ideas are the ones whose students suffer the most. Simply because a teacher has been in the classroom for 25 years does not mean that the teacher is effective or even moderately talented. Those teachers are probably in even more dire need of new techniques than I am and should be craving the ideas that an outside observer could provide. As it ends up, those teachers are quite often the most vociferous advocates against change.


1. Kris says:

[5/7/2006 - 7:02 pm]

Deep down, I believe that we should openly allow people into our classrooms and accept feedback. There have been so many days in my years where I really needed a second opinion, but there was nobody.

What worries me a little, and many teachers a lot, is that people scrutinize every little detail–and that could be bad for teachers with power tripping people who don’t know enough about education and different styles of teaching. I include some of those inept administrators here.

The biggest benefit I’ve always dreamed of, however, is that our school could become more of a COMMUNITY. Students can see how human admin can really be and visa versa. It would be wonderful for other teachers to visit, too. We area already on a team together, and I think we might be able to see the students in a deeper way to see them in more than one setting.

2. Ben says:

[5/8/2006 - 5:34 am]

Glad to have you back, even if you’re taking fire. I agree with the open-ness of the classroom, but to carry out the Medical Community analogy it would be appropriate to ensure that those observing us have a connection to the educational world. Professors from local teaching colleges, veteran teachers, and administrators would all make excellent candidates. More importantly there would need to exist a common guideline or practice of observation and recommendation to help prevent any subjective observations that individuals might make. Not to protect us from people that might enter our room seeking to do us harm, but rather to make all parties feel more at ease as teachers know exactly what will be observed, and that observers will be focused on a problem or area of instruction that the teacher has chosen before hand to be observed.