Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Schooling: Partnerships

The issue of teacher turnover becomes a huge problem that educator reformers are tackling. Turnover is especially significant in tougher schools where there are less resources for the district and the people living in the community. This is a whole issue I won't begin to address aside to generally say that teaching is very tough especially in areas associated with our "achievement gap", it can thus be incredibly tough to do the job well and to stay with it.

One piece of this is how much a teacher has on their plate. In our information age, a quality education demands much more from our education system to provide a knowledgeable workforce. I thus believe teachers have a larger and more complex task than they did in previous eras.

I would suggest that the concept of Teacher Partnerships become the norm. No longer should it be expected that one single individual can sustain and develop the intellectual, interpersonal, social, academic, cognitive and moral faculties of a class of up to 120+ students. On average, one person cannot do all that a teacher does, and do it well.

One average adult cannot do all the things that we expect out of our teachers in a modern day classroom:
  • Plan lessons for 180 days out of the years for up to 120 students with sometimes 3 - 4 different classes a day. 
  • Prep all the materials for those lessons; materials, readings, visuals, power points, manipulatives, lab materials and many other items.
  • Manage student behavior for a wide range of student's with a wide range of needs.
  • Differentiate instruction and create modifications while staying on top of the student IEP's
  • Maintain regular communication with parents (ideally with some home visits).
  • Assess student data providing learner's with regular feedback.
  • Develop soft skills in learners such as public speaking and teamwork
  • Ensuring that literacy skills are incorporated and developed in your lessons.
  • Ensuring some regular access to technology.
  • Conducting outdoor lessons to enhance student's connection with the natural world.
  • Collaborating with other educators and administration continuously.
  • Maintaining the physical space of your room; arranging seating strategically, having visuals, word walls, and an engaging but clear physical space to promote learning and the environment.
  • Attending after-school meetings and professional development.
  • Prepping student's for summative assessment and state-wide exams.
  • Teaching somewhere between 4 - 8 hours of (depending on length of school day and prep periods). 
  • Continually working to maintain a positive connection with student's, while maintaining high expectations from them.

There are plenty of extremely good teachers who do all these things or close to them. I also believe that people who are motivated can learn how to do these things, even the management piece. However, completing all these tasks  is often not sustainable and can thus lead to burnout. An individual can maybe keep up the job for some time, but at some point, it becomes enough and burnout can ensue which motivates them to leave the field or to stay in but not put in as much effort. The teachers who I know that are really good and completing most of these tasks are having a hard time imagining being parents. They often stay at their schools till late (7, 8 and sometime 9:00) and can't imagine being both parents and effective teachers. It is grueling work.

If you are in a school with students who are predominantly on free and reduced lunch and are dealing with issues of poverty, then the amount of work needed during the day is often much more, and the stressors your run into with your kids are might greater. We can choose to leave this to be a profession that is this extremely difficult to do well, or we can restructure it to be more sustainable.

I think you're starting to see the model of co-teaching being used in Special Education, but teaching should not be such an isolated act as it often is. You're alone from other staff, administrators and educators with many students with a wide range of needs and with the crucial task of ensuring the development of their education.

Having teachers work in pairs, or in groups could do an immense amount to make this task sustainable. With proper planning time, and with a reasonable system of matching fellow teachers, all these many important tasks to ensure a quality educational environment could be broken up logically, there would be support in delivering instruction and maintaining the environment, their would be greater flexibility in teaching methodology and finally, educators might not feel as alone as they often do. Mind you this is the norm with early elementary student aged kids.

One way to do it, I believe at least is to have one teacher be a content specialist and the other teacher be a student specialist.  The first would focus on the content and the latter would focus more on the needs of the students. The content specialist would be more trained in the nuances, the expertise of the curriculum and units of study. They would be more trained in the the teaching methods revolving around the content, relevant activities, examples and other such methods. They would know how to differentiate instruction, what opportunities for media and out of the classroom learning would be relevant and would maybe, at first take the lead in delivering instruction alongside  the student specialist.

The student specialist would know their student and their ins and outs more succinctly. They would focus more on the management and relationship building in their classroom. They would focus on setting up a positive classroom climate and setting up routines and procedures. They might be more responsible for parent and family communication and working.

However, there would be ample time set up in schedules for these individuals to co-plan daily, both teachers jobs would intertwine to the point where at point both could manage either individually when needed. Often, the content specialist could come from outside organizations which is happenings a lot in the education field already (there are a number of non profits in Boston that do this).

Either way, making the field of education more community and team oriented would do a lot to improve the outcomes of education and make the field more accessible for skilled and talented individuals. If we are serious about the state of our educational system than we need to take the steps and investments to ensure that those who work in it can sustain themselves and have the chances to improve and grow. It needs to be a job where teachers are not left so alone from other adults that could benefit them, day in and day out. 

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