Education is hard! Teaching is hard! That’s got to be the center of my reflection for this week. It’s hard, it’s tiring and it’s not for the weak.
I started back to school with a renewed sense of enthusiasm and passion for what I do. I mentioned that in my last post. I felt like I could do anything for our kids. Every Kid. Every Day. No Matter What It Takes. That may sound like a lot but I think that’s what kids deserve. Quickly the people around me tried to sap that enthusiasm. People who have a vision that is different than yours can sap that energy. People who have that ‘we’ll-see-how-long-this-lasts’ attitude can eat away at your positivity. People who don’t understand the changes that need to happen in education can be a drain on your enthusiasm.
What I found this week is that keeping your head up and your vision in tact takes work. Hard, tiring work. Every day this week I went home exhausted and every day I thought of things that I wish I would have done or things that I did that could have waited. I tried to smile when people were negative and I tried to walk away when I could feel the energy meter running low. By nature I avoid confrontation. Reflecting at the end of the day there were many instances where I should have confronted the situation.
I feel like I have great relationships with our teachers. Relationships are everything in this business. Sometimes, though, I think I avoid the hard conversations because I don’t want to damage the relationships. I don’t mean addressing things that are obviously bad for kids. What I’m talking about are the small things that don’t ruin kids but also don’t bring out the best in them. One example from this week: We have a class of students who are notoriously low achievers and behavior issues. These students were stereotyped from the outset of the year. Not one teacher gave them a clean slate. They expected that they would be behavior problems and they were. Well, yes, self-fulfilling prophecy.
I had a chance this week to chat with a former colleague. Great guy and excellent teacher but also a person who has always challenged me to think. He said that there is always one person wherever he has gone who reminds him of the superintendent that we had when we worked together. The kind of person who is an authoritarian leader and runs people out of an organization due to the destruction of the culture. I tried to identify the people in our building who played that role. What I discovered is that they are not at the top but they are in the trenches. There are people who damage the culture on a daily basis by the way they run their classrooms, by the way they do there jobs and by the way they interact with people. And, I guess it goes further than actual actions. The way some people talk about kids, parents, colleagues and probably me damages the culture at the basic level.
Luckily for us there are only a small number of those people in our school so the strong keep the culture afloat. Also, even though there are some negatives, all in all we have an excellent group of ‘teachers.’ We teach well, some of us just need some work on our relationship building.
So, my reflection for this week is that it’s got to get harder for me. I have to start being more assertive and addressing each of these little items. Our culture depends on it and I don’t think there is much more important to our students than a culture that is uplifting. I’m going to continue to be tired and my wife is going to wonder why I am spending so much time in my office. I get it and I know she will understand but I refuse to be weak and I refuse to be weakened.
That picture is what I thing of when I think of summer school. The kids who didn’t get it done in the previous nine months got to spend some quality time over the summer to gain credits. If you are of a certain age, and have questionable taste, you probably saw the movie. A bunch of slackers taking English from an equally slackerish teacher.
The new trend that I have seen in the last couple of years is summer school for the bright. Not really school but assignments to get them ready to take ‘advanced’ or AP courses in the fall. My niece and a friend of my daughter’s both participated in this activity this summer and their schools are 200 miles apart. It must be a trend.
While at the shore this summer my niece broke out a book and some worksheets to complete her assignments so that she would be allowed to participate in the advanced English course during her sophomore year. I don’t have a problem with that necessarily. I do have a problem with the assignments. Read these three books; answer the questions on these worksheets and write a report on this book using this theme.
This is a good example of one of the things that is wrong with education in this country. I’m sure that the school that this teacher works at thinks she is the greatest teacher they have. They would have to because we know that only the best teachers get to teach the top kids. Don’t get me started on that. And the students in these classes have to be the best and brightest in order to get through the door. So, our ‘best’ teachers are telling our ‘best’ students how to grow academically over the summer. These are the book that will make you smarter; these are the questions that will prove you are smarter; this is the theme that smart people write about. The books were the typical high quality literature that you see in high school classrooms. We all probably read them. The theme was based on material that the typical high school would understand. The worksheets on the other hand were mostly low level recall questions. The kind of questions that a teacher asks just to make sure you read the book. No desire for students to analyze the text or make judgments.
The problem is this: If our gifted and talented and otherwise smart kids can’t decide for themselves how to self direct their learning, who can? What if the assignment were to read three books of your choosing. Three books that spoke to them. Three books that they were passionate about. Three books that they felt would help them develop into better students or better human being. Wouldn’t that be a better use of their time? Instead of saying write this essay about this book on this theme, couldn’t the students read the materials that they selected and write about how the books impacted them positively or negatively. What did you learn about yourself by reading these books? And, in my opinion, chuck the worksheets into the trash. Trust is important in building a culture of learning. Asking students to answer simple recall and comprehension questions serves one purpose: to make sure that the kid read the book. I don’t trust you so tell me what happened to Tom on page 136. We are in dire need of people who can solve critical problems in our society. We need adults who are thinkers. Brendon Burchard’s second rule in his 5 Rules of Life is: Believe in your ability to figure things out. That ability may come naturally for some but for others it needs to be nurtured. You nurture that, I believe, by providing kids opportunities to figure things out. We don’t do it by spoon feeding content .
I read or am reading five books over the summer. Everyone has taught me something that I will use this year in my job. Not one of those books is on the list of 500 books everyone should read before they die. Not one. But I grew this summer because of each one. When more teachers start focusing on cultivating growth, allowing choice, and building trust with students, education will be moving in a better direction.
As an administrator, I’m always getting the age old question, “What do you do all summer?” It tends to irritate me that people feel I have to justify my summer work but I usually do it any way. I guess in some way I feel I need to. If you are an administrator you know what I mean. You also know that it is long days without much interaction especially in July when anyone else working tends to take vacation. Unfortunately summer tends to be my least favorite part of the year generally because of the lack of collegiality.
This summer I am trying to be a more productive leader. For me in the past summer as been like this: June – catch up on everything that you let go at the busy end of the year and begin looking at test scores, July – take some vacation time, August – begin preparations for the new year. Not always that cut and dry but those are the basics. My wife, the teacher, calculates it like this: June = Friday, July = Saturday, August = Sunday. If you’re a teacher that will make sense.
This summer I tried offering some professional development but it was poorly received. Basically many reasons for that chiefly that I couldn’t require attendance and I had nothing to offer in exchange – no Act 48, no money, no exchange. I also have set aside an hour at the beginning of every day to explore my PLN, catch up on professional reading, and generally try to become a better leader.
My question to all of the educators out there: How do you spend your summer? Please don’t tell me “at the beach” because I might just cry!