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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

I Don't Have Enough Time to Be a Good Teacher

When I got into teaching, I was bewildered by all of the things supposedly good teachers did in their classrooms.

From professors and mentor teachers and administrators, I learned at least three new things that good teachers did every day for a long time.

A few examples:

- Good teachers keep records of phone calls home
- Good teachers greet students at the door and know at least one personal fact about each of their students
- Good teachers base their instruction on assessment
- Good teachers collaborate
- Good teachers stay after school to work with struggling students
- Good teachers differentiate their classes heterogeneously and homogeneously depending on the lesson
- Good teachers have excellent transitions
- Good teachers engage all of their students

The list of things good teachers supposedly do is endless. When I started teaching (the type A personality that I am), I was eager to work toward doing all of the things on that list. For years, I stayed late after school crossing every T and dotting every I. I desperately wanted to be good at my job, and I was deeply concerned that I wasn't good enough. I dealt with so much stress as a result that I nearly left the profession twice (here and here).

I used to be of the opinion that with enough hard work and effort, I would one day reach a place where I could seamlessly do all of the things on that good-teacher list.

Of course, the more I teach, the better I get. My skill in responding to student behavior has improved tremendously. I am more adept at creating assessments and using them to instruct. I have a much stronger opinion about the purpose of school and my role as a teacher.

However, no amount of skill or talent can substitute for spending time I don't have planning, collaborating, or grading.

There's sort of a dirty secret in education: not very many of us are good at our jobs - at least not if you measure a teacher against the never-ending list of good-teacher expectations. There's just too much.

Schools and education workers are overburdened with work, to put it mildly. That much is clear. Therefore, our focus becomes getting things done, checking them off our never-ending to-do list, and getting out of the building every day with our sanity.

I don't think school improvement is complicated - at all. If we had the time to focus on quality work, and were supported in doing that, school quality would improve greatly.

Two plus two equals four...

You don't need research to know it's true or a talking head on CNN to agree. It's just true. Expensive, but true.

What makes today's school improvement complicated is that we're trying to be better at what we do with fewer resources - less time, less money, and fewer professionals.

You even hear school leaders acknowledge this. They conclude, "We're going to have to do better with less. That's just the way it is." Which is what probably got them hired in the first place - convincing the community that they could actually do that. But it's not going to do much in the way of real school improvement. (Many educational leaders garner success by finding inventive ways to lie with data.)

As long as this rigamarole continues, I can't see how any real headway will be made in improving educational experiences.

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