The end of the year is a special time for teachers. It is also an odd time. It is one we look forward to yet approach with some sense of apprehension, regret and longing.
Let me take those in reverse order. The longing is for the chance to retain those students we now have to say goodbye to.
Not only did I miss the first five weeks, I was totally new to teaching eighth grade, to teaching general education students and to teaching social studies. I regret that I was not a better teacher for them.
As for the apprehension, that comes from one of the classes I will have to teach next year. This year’s seventh grade class was described, in an uncharacteristic bit of restraint from my colleagues, as the class from hell. Or perhaps that should be Hell. Or HELL.
They were a very challenging group. This year I was the only teacher in my academy not to have to try to teach them. I will not be so fortunate next year.
While I am not looking forward to them, I am looking forward to another year with this year’s sixth grade class. I will be their homeroom teacher as well as their social studies instructor.I have just completed my sixth year of teaching. I have taught a different subject, different grade level or both each year of my career. Next year I will have to know another new curriculum but at least I will already know the students I will have to teach.
One of the imperatives of the current education change (I refuse to call it reform) movement is to get rid of those teachers they deem to be ineffective.
I fear that I am one of those teachers.
But it is not my fault. Well, not totally my fault.
Our greatest glory is not in never failing but in rising every time we fall. Confucius.
- Effective teachers are those who have passion. I have passion.
- Effective teachers are those who constantly strive to improve. I constantly strive to improve.
- Effective teachers know their curriculum well and understand that they are not teaching it, they are teaching students. I know I am teaching students not curriculum, but I don’t know my curriculum thoroughly, at least not as thoroughly as I would after teaching with it a couple of years.
When I was a student teacher I worked with a woman who had been a second grade teacher for twenty-four years. She was very good at teaching second grade. It is almost impossible to develop deep competence when one is confronted with change all the tine and I wonder how my host teacher would have done had she suddenly had to switch to fifth grade. I want to be an effective teacher. I try to be an effective teacher. I yearn to be an effective teacher, but circumstances far beyond my control have gotten in the way.
This is another problem with things like merit pay and judging teachers based on their students’ test scores; teachers need to be given the opportunity to succeed and the circumstances to take advantage of that opportunity. I am fortunate to have a principal who understands that it takes time to learn a curriculum and how to present it well. He has given me effective support when he can, but he gives me something more important, something I try to give my students.
He gives me room to fail without consequence to me. He understands that I will make errors; that I will have lessons that fall flat and create units that don’t quite accomplish what I wanted and thought they would. All he asks is that I reflect on, analyze and try to learn from my mistakes as well as from my occasional successes.
He thinks I am a good teacher because I try hard, learn constantly, question everything, and model for my students the process of getting up, dusting oneself off and trying again if things go badly at first. He understands that while many people can be good teacher or good students, no one will take the risks necessary to be great if only given one opportunity for success.
He doesn’t believe in high-risk testing, high risk observations of one-shot assessments. He believes that if given enough time, enough support, enough structure and enough opportunity everyone can succeed.