I am convinced that the best way to improve educational outcomes for students is to support and empower teachers. I have been a teacher in Rhode Island for eleven years and am returning to my classroom after two years on full-release, supporting beginning teachers. This work is amazing and my learning never stops! I have learned so much about schools, learning, teaching and the power of collaboration.
I find that the majority of first year teachers I support teach in multi-age, self-contained special education classrooms. Many of the challenges they face are unique to this setting and predictable to administrators and veteran teachers in the school. Many of these challenges are also driving potentially long term and high quality special educators out of these settings and into other positions.
There are two major issues of equity that I see as prohibiting these programs from being the vehicle by which students’ transition back into the general education setting is supported and encouraged.
Access to Curriculum
There are two issues within access to curriculum. First- teacher expertise. I have yet to see a school or district find a way to provide the same professional development opportunities to the classroom teacher with students in grades 5-8 in his room as provided to the sixth grade math and science teacher next door. By professional development, I mean more than just the once or twice yearly content and strategy workshops (although that would be a start). The sixth grade math and science teachers meet bi-weekly as a cohort to plan, develop common assessments, problem solve around student misconceptions and work together to design ways to skillfully differentiate instruction by scaffolding a challenging topic in next week’s lessons. Throughout their time together, these teachers reflect, build on experiences, analyze student work and support each other. The good news for the students in sixth grade general education math and science classes is that they will reap the benefits of their teachers’ work for years to come. The level of expertise of these educators continues to grow as they interact as a community of professionals. This is an excellent example of teachers leading their own professional development. They’ll likely pass along any materials they created to Tim, the self-contained special educator, and someone will probably stop in his room to recap the learning… but just like in a classroom where 21st Century Skills are paramount, the growth and development of the learners is a result of actively participating in the learning experience, not just accessing the paper and pencil product. All of these teachers have the best of intentions. Continue reading “Are we asking too much? Who’s getting Shortchanged?”
Good Morning & Happy Halloween!
If you’re reading this, you have power somewhere… and that’s great news for you and your students. They are so lucky to have you today. I want to share a quick thought with you before your day goes into overdrive and you are lost in the responsibilities and assessments and deadlines of the noble profession we are all so lucky you joined.
Today is a different kind of day. Today you need to know your students more than other days. Today (mixed with the drama & excitement of October 31), you will have a student in your class who didn’t sleep last night because he was on Grandma’s couch, because his parents were pumping her basement. Some of your students haven’t showered or eaten a good meal in days and that’s precisely why their parents sent them to school. So, when Johnny tells you his backpack is in Auntie Sue’s car… today~ let’s assume it is. Today’s not the day for: “This was your last chance to get your homework in.” Today’s one of the many days that you will juggle curriculum, a schedule, your own evaluation and parent communication… and you will put it all aside to address your students’ basic needs… you will be balancing the art and science of teaching. You will put compassion first while giving your students the structure they crave… And you’ll pull it off with a smile!
Thank you for being in front of these students today. I’ve been thinking a lot about the horrible flood a few years back that took so many of my students’ homes. That was a difficult time- students moved for months. School, for so many, was the only stable part of life that year. I hope Sandy was kind to their families- they went through so much then. I’m relieved that the students who are struggling at this time have amazing teachers like you in front of them. The work you do is beyond important & I am thrilled that you have chosen to do it.
Lately, many of the teachers I support have been expressing a desire to take risks with new and different teaching strategies. One strategy many teachers are investigating is station teaching. Over the next two weeks I will attempt to respond to their needs as best I can through group work sessions, classroom observations and modeling.
Here are some videos from Teaching Channel.com that provide examples!
One of the most recurring topics of conversation within the groups of beginning teachers I support is teacher assistants. Some of the most common concerns I hear include:
“I don’t know what to give Mrs. T. to do. She is always ready for the next job and I can’t keep up.”
“She doesn’t think I should do it this way… Do you think she’s right?”
“He knows the kids and the program better than me. How can I possibly give him directions? I’ll just follow his lead.”
“I don’t know how to tell her that I don’t like the way she interacts with certain students.”
“The teacher assistants aren’t getting along with each other and I’m stuck in the middle.”
It’s no surprise that this can be one of the greatest stresses for beginning teachers. A beginning teacher is often the newest member of a classroom community. In many special education settings, students remain in the same classroom for more than one school year. This often means that even the students are a part of the community that the beginning teacher is joining. There may be routines and procedures previously established that everyone knows except for the teacher. Consider an awkward pause at a party, when you are the only one that didn’t understand the reference to an inside joke. For many beginning teachers, being faced with “that’s not what we did last year” and, “Mr. G. did it a different way” can be deflating at best.
Beginning teachers generally recognize the value of having another adult support in their classroom. They have subbed in classrooms where a teacher assistant was their savior. They have heard horror stories of classrooms that should have had a teacher assistant but did not… Mostly, beginning teachers are thrilled to have the luxury of a teacher assistant and want the relationship to work. The best way to make that happen, many think, is to be nice. And luckily, the beginning teacher is pretty sure that s/he is already nice… so this should really be a non issue.
Making it Work
It’s too bad that within their studies of Educational Psychology, Differentiated Instruction, Methods of Teaching Science, Assessment Strategies and Mathematical Literacy, pre-service teachers don’t have a required field placement that focuses on management, collaboration and leadership. A semester analyzing the work of an inspiring manager whose employees always give their best effort and report feeling respected at work, would be quite a learning experience. I have yet to hear a beginning teacher tell me that s/he has such an experience… but I’m still asking and hoping! In the meantime, while I wait for the colleges to add this class for me, I do have some suggestions for teachers.
I was first introduced to the idea of a writer’s notebook by my tenth grade English teacher, Mrs. Catamaro. I loved that notebook! My notebook helped me see who I was as a writer, and focus on the writer I wanted to become. It met my needs as a learner the way nothing before had. I was impulsive and unfocused, and in my writer’s notebook my ideas and Mrs. Catamaro’s feedback would wait for me. I could read and reread. I could process what I wanted, when I was ready. I’ve used the writer’s notebook with my own students and hope I provided them with opportunity to navigate their learning that Mrs. Catamaro did for me.
My Blogging Territories(Like in A Writer’s Notebook, these are ideas I want to remember so I can write about them later)
Common Frustrations & Pitfalls of New Teachers
Curriculum- Where is it? How can I write it? I haven’t even learned their names yet!
“I don’t want to be mean…” Let’s explore consistency and inconsistency. How can we lower students’ anxiety? Which teacher actions actually model respect?
Feedback, grading & that gigantic pile!!
Top Ten myths to dispel around Home/ School Communication: No news is good news, right? In high school, parents are just more hands off… they want it that way…
Educational Issues that keep me up at night
Meaningful Reporting Systems: A,B,C,D,F… but what about E? Why do we report? To whom are we reporting? What is the goal? Do all of our answers align?
Creating Communities of Respect
Effective Teacher Evaluation
The push to privatize education, and the lack of honesty around the push
I am an educator, a dancer, an over-thinker, a dog lover, a writer and a pasta addict. This blog will be dedicated to education… mostly. Since I became involved in my school district’s initiatives around topics like co-teaching and standards based reporting, my wheels have been in a constant state of motion. Over the last five or six years I have poured my heart and soul into collaborative work with so many dedicated educators and district leaders. We have come so far and are so close to reaching our goals.
Last year I began the journey of a lifetime! I have spent the last academic year coaching beginning teachers and training with the New Teacher Center. I have been working with sixteen other coaches. They are brilliant, thoughtful, positive and driven. We share a common goal- to improve educational outcomes through induction. These coaches, along with our amazing trainers from NTC, and the beginning teachers I support- challenge me every day. We learn from each other and we think. We think critically, and are exhausted by it.
In this blog I will attempt to capture some of this thinking and learning. I hope to connect the great work I see and hear in classrooms all around our small state to the domains of our teacher evaluation system, which is based on Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching. I want to share these connections because I believe in the value of Danielson’s work. I saw connections everywhere I looked this year. When teasing out what teacher actions contributed to student learning- teachers always found components of the domains. I want everyone to have access to those same ‘aha!’ moments I have, and for everyone’s students to benefit. I hope you come back often to learn more about this year’s journey!