Be the Change You Want to See In Your Teachers

After sitting through several – and by several, I mean it felt like hundreds – of online, socially distanced training videos the past week and a half, I feel that I know what the system wants us to do as teachers. 

I won’t go into the things I learned about that are ancillary to teaching – things like surviving school shooterings, fighting Covid-19 in our classrooms, coping with weather emergencies, fires, and bomb threats, reporting child abuse, using the rave panic button app, knowing about hazardous materials on campus, dealing with and avoiding sexual harassment, being aware of human trafficking and dating violence, adminstering medications, discouraging bullying, and confronting harassment.

No, I want to talk about the way I was actually told I should be teaching. I learned that we are to use the Universal Design for Learning to create lessons that frame the material to be learned in such a way that students are motivated to learn it. I learned that we should take into account what our students already know. I learned that we should take into account who our students are and what their interests are so that we can use those interests to engage them in their learning. We should offer opportunities for students to show autonomy and creativity to demonstrate their learning – our assessments should be flexibly tailored to our students. We should make the information seem relevant to our students. Our talk with students should be grade level and academically appropriate.

We should be incorporating social-emotional learning in our classes. We should make our students feel valued as people, and appreciated for the individual contributions they can make to the class and for their accomplishments. We should be supportive, we should listen. We should collaborate with our students so they have a say in how class is run, how they learn, how they demonstrate learning. 

Also this year, we should be able to teach online and in-person (a hybrid my district calls LIVE!) at the same time – and it won’t be a problem. 

Okay. So I sat through the videos, and I agree with them. I believe all those things about teaching. So what’s the problem? 

The problem is that apparently, many of the people “above” teachers don’t actually believe these things about teaching. They just like telling teachers to do them. 

Generally speaking, many of the teacher “professional learning” sessions I attend make no attempt to model for us teachers the things they are telling us to do. 

They don’t stress the importance of the material. They don’t engage us. They ramble. They lecture. They do not take into account our learning styles, interests, or preferences – or our prior knowledge. How many times have I learned about KWL? The people instructing us are not always appropriate (for any age). I recently attended a workshop where the instructor stated that women are more emotional than men and used the word “retarded” about five times in a row. 

In this time of pandemic, when we are being asked to change up teaching methods and teach LIVE!, I have yet to encounter anyone at any level willing to model what this hybrid online/in-person teaching would actually look like. Well – not on purpose. 

I have, on the other hand, watched and attended numerous hybrid school board meetings, bargaining sessions, and meetings since going back for planning with people attending both in-person and online. In every case, there were technical glitches: people couldn’t get into the call, or got thrown off the call, or one of the callers took control of the slide show without knowing it, or the call froze. 

I suppose I had the LIVE! model modeled for me, but not on purpose. Every presentation I have attended this year should have been modeling simultaneous hybrid learning. So far, it’s only happened by accident, and the lesson learned was that this model probably won’t work. 

Thought should have been given to how we will adapt to social distancing in our classroom. Someone should have been modeling for us how we will deal with small group discussion, large group discussion, pair/share, and collaboration in a socially-distanced in-person class. So far, no one has done so.

As for the other lessons about teaching I’ve been learning – about valuing our students’ creativity and contributions and allowing them autonomy over their learning – I’m afraid we are falling short there. When I am handed a curriculum map and pacing guide that essentially tells me everything I am supposed to teach for the year and all the district assessments I am supposed to give, I don’t feel valued. I feel like my expertise, my passion for my subject, my creativity are all not only devalued, but positively frowned upon. If the people in charge in education want us to value students a certain way, they should model that by valuing us the same way. 

To tell teachers to value our students, to treat them like people, and to teach them in ways that are engaging, meaningful, motivating, and deeply enriching – and then to teach us using dull, uninspiring teaching methods is, at best, a lost opportunity. To tell us to evaluate students in ways that support their creativity and autonomy, and then take away all teacher creativity and autonomy and insist on standardized assessments for all students is the height of incoherence. The cognitive dissonance gives me a headache.

You must be the change you want to see in your teachers. Treat us the way you’d like us to treat our students. You might be amazed by what happens.