If You Don’t Love Our Students, Please, Just Leave

Like most of St. Louis school districts (and the US?), my district had professional development this past Friday, giving the kids a 4 day weekend and everyone else 3 days off. 

For the most part, I always enjoy these days because they give me a chance to present things I love (or at least like LOL), see my equally-passionate colleagues from other buildings in the district, AND go out to lunch like “normal” jobs. 

All was going well Friday – we didn’t get through all of my activities in the 1st session, but we were productive, Bethany won the “Bubblesheet Champion” trophy in the ACT math session, and I was somewhat interested in the session I’d signed up to attend about using our online textbooks with close reading. I’ve come to the opinion that my students generally need a screen BREAK most days, so I purposefully do my readings on paper, but I’m always of the mindset that you might convince me otherwise.

Whatever is best for the kids.

It was in this setting that I wound up overhearing a science teacher from one of our more schools go on for what felt like 15 minutes about how his horrible kids will never read anything, and that they’re all a bunch of gang wanna-bes, who play out the pecking order of the streets by making kids sharpen their pencils and get them pieces of paper.

I have some tough kids this semester, too. I get the frustration of coming to work most days and just praying that today, just maybe, will be one of those days they cut you some slack and you don’t have to feel like you’re throwing the toolbox of tricks at them to get anything back.

I, too, know that frustration of kids just staring at me while I’m waiting for more than 1 or 2 kids to engage in my class discussion. “LET ME TEACH YOU!” is what I am passionately internalizing (and sometimes that sneaks out audibly).

BUT.

Most days, as I’m reflecting on the day’s lesson, I might be frustrated that so and so did this and that, but at the end of the day, this is my job, and these are my kids. You might call it “fate,” or “destiny,” or “your department chair’s wrath upon you,” – I would call it God’s will – but ultimately, something put you and those kids together, so it’s your job as the teacher to figure that out. 

(Yes, it would also be terribly kind and helpful if the students did they’re “job” and exhibited their good “student” behaviors, but as I tell my own children and kids and school, YOU control what YOU can do.)

I thought I was just going to leave the session feeling sad for those students that this man with years of classroom experience could only blame his gang wanna-bes, but as he left the room at the end of the day and several of us found a typo on a website, he left his final impression upon us with, “must’ve been a grad from our district.” 

If you don’t love our students, please, just leave. 

Was there anything objectively wrong with that statement? Maybe not – it’s no secret that our state test and ACT scores are in the bottom of the barrel, but it was the way, he said it. In a “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” kind of way. 

Perhaps this gentleman had just had a particularly tough week, and if I were to see him again next August that he would be filled with wonder and excitement at the coming school year, like the vast majority of teachers. So years we just get more beat down than others. So if he or someone he knows has figured this out and tracked him down, please understand that I know I may be dangerously generalizing his attitudes.

It speaks to the larger discussion coming upon our struggling schools every year about this time, though. “I heard so and so is leaving to go to _______. They didn’t want to deal with ______ anymore.” Sometimes ______ is administration. Sometimes ______ is bureaucratic paperwork stuff we have to do to prove that actually teaching (or attempting as much). Those blanks disappoint me, because those are leadership failures, I think. But sometimes ______ is the students we serve. If you are a teacher who needs to leave for greener pastures because of the kids, please know that I love you, but I’m not going to bemoan your decision. 

If you don’t love our students anymore, please, just leave. 

I would much rather be in the trenches with someone who (still) has their heart in the fight. Together, we can cry together. Together we can try plan B, C, D, E, F, G, etc, because our love for these God-ordained students is too much to have tried “everything.”

Our students can be troubling, they can be apathetic, but they can also be inspiring, and passionate, and brilliant, if you know where to look and never stop seeking that out.

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Chicken or the Egg – Whose Learning Should Schools Prioritize?

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The topic for Thursday night’s #moedchat was “Out of the Box PD”. I guess the first question was my favorite, because I’m still thinking about it.

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MY RESPONSE:

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I didn’t get the feeling that it was a very popular answer – maybe only because the focus of Thursday’s chat was on TEACHER learning – but the more I reflect on it, the stronger I’m convicted. Wrapping it as a chicken/egg paradigm instead of front burner/back burner makes it a slightly different question, but the principle remains.

Student learning should be the primary focus of a school or distict over teacher PD because teacher learning would have to be a part of the discussion to serve that goal.

What happens when teacher learning comes first? Reflecting on my own career gives me a few things to consider.

1. Saying the right thing and having an instructional plan that LOOKS good takes precedence over evidence and results.

We can have high-quality PD and high-five each other for the great conversations we have at edcamps, other conferences, or on Twitter chats, but there’s a big step between knowing best practice, attempting best practice, and ACHIEVING best practice. In my own experience, when MY learning is most important, its tempting to blame anything that is unsuccessful in my classroom on various student factors.

2. PD that does not focus first on the impact of a strategy or tool on students serves only the people in the room.

I am not a fan of “cool tool” sessions at conferences or PD trainings that focus on one particular tool, because in my own experience, my excitement to squeeze that tool into my own classroom sometimes results in a negative impact on learning as students hurdle the tech to learn the content or demonstrate their learning. If “how will my students use this” or “what challenges will my students face” is the first question, we risk complicating an environment that is already difficult to navigate for high-needs students.

The first semester I had iPads in my classroom, I tried giving a final exam on the Socrative “clicker” app. From my perspective, this was a slam dunk. My students had already used the app several times, so I knew they liked it, and while you could not put images into your Socrative quizzes at that point in time, I had gotten around it by printing copies of the exam with Socrative setup as a bubblesheet. What I thought was the big advantage for me and the kids was that Socrative was going to score their responses as they worked, making the feedback immediate – they would not be stressing for hours to find out how they did on the final. There was only ONE problem – Socrative forces the students to work linearly through the exam, so anyone that would normally skip around and do the work they were most comfortable with first could not. On top of that, if a student accidentally pressed a response different than what they wanted, there was no way to go back and change it. Bottom line: for as much added benefit as Socrative provided with its immediate results (and easing my grading burden) the times kids were penalized for an errant finger resulted in a net impact of ZERO at best.

3. Focusing on teachers’ learning needs FIRST ignore the needs of the students in their context.

Instructional design 101 demands that before you prepare any instruction (or in this case, provide training for teachers to better teach the students), you conduct a needs assessment to meet the students where they are culturally, and what they bring to you in prior knowledge.

The students’ learning must come first because they are the school variable that is always changing! Yes, there are circumstances for which meeting a set of students will require more training for a teacher, but that is in response to the student context.

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WHAT DO YOU THINK?