Monday, July 17, 2017


Last week I had a lovely lunch date with a friend from work.  She taught second grade last year (long term sub) and will hopefully fill our third grade vacancy this year.  She's going to be finishing up her degree and student teaching and be fully licensed for next school year.  If the stars all align, I'll be her supervising teacher and she'll be two classrooms away.  She's quite the lovely person, open to learning, and actively seeks out ways to improve.  She's also fully aware of this blog post.

She said something that rubbed me the wrong way (and has been rattling around in my head for a few days).  She was hesitant to talk about things she wanted to work on for next year, as if it was a weakness to want to improve.  As her potential supervising teacher (for student teaching), we've got to have honest conversations about growth.

I quickly jumped in and told her that it's awesome to have a list of things she wanted to improve on.  I shared the gist of my {goals} for next year.  Once I shared that I've got plenty I want to improve upon, she seemed much calmer and more open about her perceived weaknesses.

First off, they aren't weaknesses.  They are targeted areas of growth.  Self awareness is the first crucial step.  There's nothing wrong with saying you want to improve as a teacher.  We applaud when athletes improve their records from previous years, so why is teaching different?

Granted, sometimes the professional developments (PD) we receive aren't the greatest, especially when they are mandated and generic.  But that's not the only option for PD.  Creating a PLN (professional learning network) and sharing ideas (virtually or in person) is a great way to continue to grow as an educator.  Reading books, watching webinars, and talking with others are all stellar options.

Second, one of the greatest (and worst) things about teaching is that there is always something new to learn.  There are always new strategies to try and ways to improve.  It's wonderful that she's open to this.  Everyone should be.

Third, there's only one true weakness in teaching: arrogance.  To assume that one's teaching is perfect in every aspect is the height of hubris.  Classroom management, behavioral conflicts, these can all be fixed with mentoring and ongoing conversations.  But the arrogant mindset and refusal to be open to others?  There's no outside forces that are capable of fixing that mindset.

I've been there and it's not pretty.  It was my third and fourth years teaching.  I'd finished my Master's degree.  I worked with some veteran teachers who were on their way out to retirement, so their work ethic and quality of teaching wasn't quite where it needed to be.  I was still very much in the Teach for America mindset where if a teacher isn't devoting every waking hour to the kids, they must not care.  This relentless, work-a-holic mindset isn't sustainable, isn't healthy, and isn't good for kids (or the teachers).  

I started attending professional development outside of my school and district and was quickly knocked off my high horse.   For this, I am eternally appreciative because my stay in arrogant teacher land was a short staycation, not a long term residency.

While I may have been the best in my grade level, there was plenty more to learn.   Quickly humbled, I made it a point to seek out opportunities for improvement...and I haven't stopped.

I've attended some awesome professional developments. I've led some sessions at school and district levels.  I've read some great books and am fortunate enough to be at a school that encourages professional growth.  But I'm no where near being done learning.

I have teacher friends at my school, within my district, and outside of CCSD that I can turn to for advice and lesson ideas.  I have a close knit group where I can openly admit when a lesson fails and complain about all the ways it didn't live up to my expectations.  After my allotted venting time is over, we turn to problem solving and how to improve it for next time.  It's all part of the learning process.  My students experience it often and as a teacher, I'm also a life long learner.

I'm (hopefully) out of the elitist mindset.  I am fully aware that as a teacher, I have areas of improvement.  So, I do something about it.  

I schedule observations and actively seek out feedback.  I look for opportunities to expand my learning (and bonus if it's paid!).  As a mentor, I have an open door policy.  If a mentee or peer is willing to have me observe in his/her classroom, I should be willing to reciprocate.  As a mentor, I am peer mentored.  I talk about my lesson ideas, lesson successes/failures, and ways to improve with other teachers, our strategist, and my administration.  It's sometimes a scary and honest conversation about what's not going well.  There needs to be a great deal of trust between all involved parties.  

Through trial and error, I've found a few peers who I could have honest conversations with about classroom instruction.  The point was not to gossip or belittle my instruction, but rather to find solutions to the problems I was facing.  

Sometimes, this honesty has failed miserably.  I've been blindly assigned to watch other colleagues and had them tell me "I hear you really stink at ____, __(name of previous administrator)__ told me so. I'm happy to have you watch me so you can fix __(my perceived area of weakness)__."  

That colleague was not in my trusted circle and presented herself as the savior to all my problems.  I have trouble respecting this person's work ethic as it is.  I was hurt by the betrayal of confidentiality from my supervisor.  Had it been presented as a choice of teachers for me to observe, it would have been another story.  But the administrator took our private conversation where I was seeking out feedback (from the administrator) and essentially outsourced feedback without my consent.  The other colleague took joy at knowing my weakness and chose to exploit it by sharing my situation, loudly, in the teachers' lounge.

That's not how we help each other out.  That's not teamwork.  That's not appropriate.

It took a while for me to be open to feedback from others after that incident.

One of the hardest part about working with other teachers is running into arrogant, inflexible teachers, like the one mentioned above.  They've been teaching for X many years and know everything.  They don't want to work with others, they don't want to be observed, and don't welcome constructive conversations.  There are a lot of reasons behind this mindset, but the biggest is fear.  Fear of being wrong. Fear of trying new things. Fear of failure.

Instead of being frustrated with these teachers, taking their comments personally, or worse, continually butting heads with them, I do my very best to keep my professional distance.  

I am not a perfect teacher.  I have things I want to work on.  I have skills I want to improve. I've had lessons fail miserably...and that's okay.  Because these things are not my weakness.  They are areas of growth.

Being resistant to change, having an arrogant mindset, and refusing to receive feedback are weaknesses.  

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