The Things I Believe (or, “What Do I Know? I’m Only a Teacher.”)

For all my DOE colleagues, here’s some food for thought as we return to work tomorrow.

Former NYC DOE principal Mama Photomatt7 recently forwarded me this Edweek article, entitled “These Things We Believe”.

Although I’m still technically a neophyte (and one who is glad to be so – ever learning and ever striving to improve is far better than complacency), I empathize with and lift my voice in support of those teachers who are “so discouraged about the conditions under which they’re working and the daily criticism they’re hearing from political leaders, school reform groups, and media pundits who’ve identified teachers as the chief cause of public education’s problems.” In any school across this city, chances are the gripes are similar to those in my school, and many of them stem from our political “leadership.”

Yes, the naysaying public lacks any significant appreciation for the beleaguered teacher. Yet, the trick, so implied in the Edweek article, is to insulate ourselves from the cacophony of hatred directed toward us, and in spite of it, create atmospheres conducive to the success of our students and the sanity of their teachers.

Bob Williams, implicit subject of the article, asked a group of teachers to articulate the three things they believe in as educators, those ideals that, so he said, “we support and are convinced will help improve our schools and our profession.”

Here are some of my favorites, and my thoughts (italicized) on each:

Williams: “Every day I step into my classroom, I believe that the work I do is important and the skill with which I do my job makes a difference.” I am totally committed to the belief that I am a difference maker and someone who can change lives through my attitude and aptitude. I am also constantly grappling with how to maximize my potential in this capacity.

Williams: “I know that much of my success is because I invest time and energy into creating a sense of caring and community with my students. These are important components of being an effective teacher.” Establishing a classroom community begins at the beginning of the year, and doing so cultivates a family of learners who support each other through the struggles of class and life.

Heather: “Assessments should be authentic. It’s all about project learning and problem solving.” No child I know or ever will know will wake up the morning of a state assessment beaming from ear to ear, screaming at the top of her lungs, “It’s the day of the ELA test!” Promise a student they’ll be doing a fun math activity, though (and use it to assess them, too), and you’ll see real investment.

Heather: “Content knowledge is no more important than content delivery. I would rather have an engaging teacher who learns with her students then the content expert who can’t communicate.” I keep my students on the edge of their seats with humor and excitement. I’m not ashamed of making a fool of myself if it means reaching my students effectively.

Heather: “Teachers must be reflective. They must make the time to think about how their teaching behaviors affect their students’ learning behaviors.” As a second year teacher, I am first able to do this now. However, the value of this practice is obvious, and it can be done day to day, week to week, month to month, and year to year.

Susan: “The single most important thing a teacher can do is to ignite the fire of intellectual curiosity in children, encouraging them to continually ask, “Why?” “So what?” “Now what?” “What if?”” For me, this isn’t the most important thing, but given the opportunity, it would play a central role in my room. Curiosity did kill the cat, but we can’t let its absence kill the child.

Marsha: “Not everything a student needs can be solved with an educational fix. In fact, most of the pressing issues associated with public schools have little to do with getting an education. They reflect more personal or societal issues.” One of the common themes of our workplace discussions center around the fact that there are factors in our childrens’ lives that preclude them from doing “what we want”. This is not the fault of the child, but it is the responsibility of the teacher to acknowledge.

Cossondra: “Children rise to meet our expectations. We shortchange them too often by making excuses about parents or socioeconomic status when in fact, we are their teachers and we have the most significant role in their educational success.” What bothers me more? When a colleague says something like, “I don’t think my class will be able to do that,” when an administrator says it, or when I want to innovatively push my students outside of The Mosaic Project but can’t find the time and/or latitude to do so.

Bill: “Genuinely hearing, respecting, and incorporating student voices into schools is the single most important thing we can do to help them learn to be good citizens in a democracy, to expect respect and offer it in return, and to acquire other skills they will need for success in school and throughout life.” I am finding that prefacing a lesson or activity with the simple words, “I’m going to give you a choice,” is a subtle point that is not lost on the class. Doing so establishes new roles for all of us. Yes, I am your teacher, but I am not your taskmaster. This is your education – what do you want from it?

Bill: “To truly educate the whole child, we need to value all aspects of education as worthwhile and mutually reinforcing.” One of my biggest qualms of education today is the fact that so much is pushed to the side in favor of daily, lengthy, demanding blocks of math and literacy. These skills can all be learned across subjects, and through music and art. Yet, so sadly, that luxury is a way of the past.

Nancy: “Learning is best when it’s absorbing and enjoyable, and that kind of learning sticks to brains. Learning is meant to be fun.” Thematic units, with their application to childrens’ lives, are, tragically so, a thing of the past. I aim to give my students the most memorable experiences of their elementary careers – but again, without the leeway to do so, it is a constant struggle. Yet it’s also a rewarding challenge.

Mary: “Everybody wants to be known. Teachers who tell their students on a regular basis that “I see you are an individual” will meet with more success.” A graduate school professor offered us one of his best practices relating directly to this: find something personal to say to each child everyday. I am in the process of employing this strategy, and finding it to be difficult. The payoff, however, can not be understated.

Laura: “Every child can learn.” and Kathie: “Every child deserves teachers who believe in their potential, no matter the child’s circumstance.” If you don’t believe these statements, I urge you to get out of the profession – yesterday. You are destroying children’s lives unless you believe in them.

Kathie: “Teaching is one of the most underrated, most difficult, and most rewarding of professions. That’s why we’re all here. Despite the barriers and drawbacks. Despite the long hours and exhausting work. We know what we’re doing is critically important work.” Again, if you don’t believe in these statements, I wish you would reconsider your profession – or your beliefs.

What do I believe? I believe that someday, when we walk in the golden valley of educational harmony, in that mystical world beyond the clouds where teachers are sagacious and revered, where professional opinion is valued and not derided, then will we serve the purposes truly intended of the educator: to inspire, to innovate, to encourage, to change the world.

All right, you see what I believe. Now, what about you? What do you believe? Let us know below, and get the dialogue going.



6 responses to “The Things I Believe (or, “What Do I Know? I’m Only a Teacher.”)

  1. a sweet post to read before going back to work 🙂

  2. I agree with a lot of what you said. I think it’s really important to take some time to occasionally remind ourselves of our core values and what makes us special as educators. Those of us who remain consistently aware of the enormous impact we can have will hopefully be most effective!

  3. The “powers that be” are so far removed from what goes on in a classroom that they have no clue about what’s important. It is critical that those of us who do know continue to keep ourselves focused on our own “things we believe” as we teach.

  4. How inspiring. I love Nancy and Kathie’s beliefs. That was incredible food for thought for teachers and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Pingback: Month in Review: Feb. 2010 « The World As I See It

  6. Pingback: The Things I Believe (or, “What Do I Know? I’m Only a Teacher.”) | Edwize

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