I recently wrapped up my first semester back in the classroom. Before this year, I spent a year in health technology. While it was rewarding and the company was amazing, I always felt drained and unfulfilled. I also felt ashamed that I had not survived through my pregnancy as teacher. Being pregnant with twins was time and energy consuming and I didn't know how I would be as present in the classroom as I needed to be while attending weekly doctor appointments and not over-stressing myself. Still, I felt I'd let down my students, my calling, and myself. Every single day I missed teaching, often driving by students on their way to school as I traveled to work, wondering what they were learning, what challenge they were facing, and what their postsecondary plans were. I wished I could support them. I even tried to become a part of the community outreach team at my former job, with the hopes of starting an apprenticeship program that targeted high school students and funneled them into positions like the one I had. That's how much I missed teaching.
Now that I've returned, I have a whole new sense of purpose and vision within my practice. Many of the skills I learned in the private sector have translated into practices that I implement in my classroom and beyond. There are also many observations I have as to why schools are not operating at optimum capacity, but that's for a later post. More than anything there are 3 attitudes I have developed as a result of working in the private sector. These changes have made me a far better teacher than I was in my first 3 years.
1. Everyone is a client.
I work in a charter school. A choice school. Parents do not have to send
their students to my school. In the one mile radius there are at least three other schools to choose from, both private and public. In every industry, including education, there is competition. Competition is what makes us challenge ourselves, it forces us to contribute our best efforts, less we find ourselves extinct. Competition is a natural occurrence that is played out in every area of our lives, whether we want it to or not. With this understanding, I try to approach the relationships I build with students and families differently. I reply much faster to emails. I work harder to know my students needs and satisfy them. I want to impress them. I want to keep them coming back for more. I want to make them believe that what I have to offer is worth more than the time they could be spending on social media. Without the families, the student, I'm unemployed. Before, I would view my students as sponges, soaking up whatever I was giving to them, but the power of internet and choice lets me know that if I cannot offer them a better alternative to what they have in their back pockets, they won't be invested enough in my content to learn. If parents feel disconnected and condemned by me, they will move on to a school that will offer their students a better experience. I don't just teach; I market meaningful merchandise. I sell dreams, and on the side I throw in tools to turn them into goals. The market needs more teachers who can adapt to parents' right to choose, instead of complaining that schools are empty and jobs are being lost.
2. Going above and beyond is a requirement.
In light of my new attitude about my relationship with my students, I also make a conscious effort to bring more to the table than my job description requires. This is not to say I am a perfect teacher. Hell, most days, I don't even believe I am a model teacher. But I do believe in giving the things you love everything you've got and then some. It just so happens that I love my job. Moreover, there exists a narrative that teachers have to become parents, disciplinarians, nurses, social workers, psychologists, researchers, students, content area experts, and more. Well, my friends, it is not just a narrative. Fact is, in today's society, parents often give their children over to schools so their kids to can receive the things the parents can't offer on their own.
With this in mind, choosing this profession, and being good at it, will mean working harder than you've ever worked, but almost never reaping the benefits. Anything less than everything yields nothing.
3. Team building is essential.
At my current school, the beginning of the year welcomed over 70% new staff. By winter break, 20% of the new staff were gone, so we've hired at least 4 new teachers in the last two month. As we all know, teacher turnover is high, especially in urban schools. Part of that is caused by the inherent loneliness of the profession. Teachers are often ostracized from one another. The moments where we do come together are often coerced by monotonous mandates from administration. These meetings lack joy and encouragement. They are never enjoyable, let alone fun. Trying to cooperate and build morale with a group of strangers is nearly impossible, but this environment is essential for a thriving school.
There have to be systems that offer teachers the opportunity to get to know one another. To like one another. To value one another. Otherwise, teachers will continue to come and go with no one to influence them otherwise.
Organizations thrive when they value people over ideas and concepts. While many criticize the way some schools employ business practices, I find that education has much to learn from entrepreneurship, customer service, competition, and innovation. While the opposite is also true, our current education system is outdated and cumbersome. It is the slowest progressing instrument of modern society. Too many of the techniques employed 150 years ago are still being used, but they are not impactful in serving the needs of today's citizens.
There is so much more I could say about this. And I will.