Wednesday, August 31, 2016

What kind of teacher do I want?

Students return to the Novi Community School District next week. In some ways that is when school officially begins.  Unofficially, the school year started this week when Novi teachers engaged in two days of professional development, spent another day working in their classrooms, and spent a fourth day in staff meetings and at our district welcome back.

Even more unofficially, as I've driven around the district for the past several weeks, it is clear that school started weeks ago. Teachers have been coming to their schools throughout the month of August eager to set up their classrooms, move desks and chairs, hang bulletin board material, and create new learning spaces. They did not come alone. Teachers brought their children, their spouses, their significant others, their parents - anyone who could lend a hand.

As Novi prepares for the upcoming school year it is appropriate to ask what kind of teachers do we want for our children?

My children are grown now, but when they were young clearly and obviously I wanted teachers who would help my children learn. I wanted educated, informed, skilled teachers who could present information, encourage my children to discover ideas, and help my children learn what they needed to know to effectively function in our global society.

I wanted my children to grow into thinkers and inventors and entrepreneurs. I wanted my children to be doctors and business leaders and professionals. I wanted my children to be voters and involved community members.

What kind of teacher did I want for my children?

I wanted teachers who could help my children learn.

But is that all?

It was not.

This summer I read a book - Ms. Bixby's Last Day.

It was a wonderful experience. 
In the book Miss Bixby says to Christopher: 
We all have moments when we think nobody really sees us. When we feel like we have to act out or be somebody else just to get noticed. But somebody notices, Topher. Somebody sees. Somebody out there probably thinks you’re the greatest thing in the whole world. Don’t ever think you’re not good enough.

That's who I wanted in a teacher for my child. I wanted someone who would see the possibility, the potential, the hope that I saw when I looked at my child.

In some ways having a teacher who can see my child is as important, if not more important, than having a teacher who is the smartest teacher in the world.

My child and I could find information. What my child needed in this world was advocates and cheerleaders and adults who were willing to challenge and encourage and motivate and push my child to be the person they could become.

Don't get me wrong. I wanted my child's teachers to know their subject and be able to teach it well. I wanted teachers who had a passion for biology and chemistry and writing and reading and math and health and technology.

But I also wanted teachers for my children who were willing to look and really see my child.

As a parent I could not do it alone.

I needed teachers to help.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

On your worst day, you can be someone’s best hope

In just under two weeks, on August 29 to be precise, teachers in my school district will officially begin the new school year. Most have been busy for weeks thinking and planning and preparing for the upcoming year. Many have already been to their classrooms, busily fussing to prepare their rooms for the new school year.

My teachers will be ready for the "normal" changes that come with the start of any new school year - new curriculum, new resources, new technology, new ideas. If I know the teachers in my district, they will be ready for school - prepared, focused, goal-directed. Just this week many have begun to participate in district provided professional development to get ready for the new school year. This is on top of what they have already done this summer.
 And that brings me comfort. I know that the students in my district will be well served.

But, truthfully, I also want my teachers to come prepared to care for the students who come into their classrooms. Students need to know that there is an adult who is not their Mom or Dad or favorite Aunt or Grandmother who cares deeply for them, who wants them to succeed.

Students need classrooms that provide both challenge and care. 

In the past decade schools and society have focused on the challenge of school. We, hilariously and disquietingly, pretend that we can identify if a kindergarten student is making progress on being college and career ready. We have tested and assessed and benchmarked ourselves and our students - sometimes to the point of frustration, sometimes to the point of boredom, often to the point of anxiety. We have railed against wasted time in school. Some schools have reduced or eliminated recess and gym and music and art in an effort to ensure that our students will be "globally competitive."

The world today is different than the world I grew up in. No longer are students competing just with the person down the street. Now they compete with students from around the world. No longer can high school graduates easily transition into well-paying careers. No longer will employees work their lifetime for one employer who will protect and provide for them.

So we need schools that challenge our students, that make them think, that help them use knowledge in meaningfully and purposeful ways, that encourage them to hypothesize and create, that help them find ways to network and connect.

But we have, at times, forgotten that schools must also care for our students.

Our students need adults who take time to listen, who look students in their eyes to make sure that they are alright, who create opportunities for students to be heard.

Our students need adults who help students develop skills in empathy and compassion, who light fires in students to be kind, who help students learn to navigate conflict.

Classrooms need to be places where students feel safe, where they can ask questions, where they can fail and find someone encouraging them to get back up again.

Classrooms need rigor and kindness.

Teachers and administrators, custodians and bus drivers, food service workers and secretaries, preschool teachers and parapros can have a tremendously positive impact on students if we remember that part of our responsibility is to be kind, to create safe spaces, to care for the students that we teach, feed, and care for. 

Too often we judge a school by a test score. It is important to remember that schools are more than a test score.

Students need to know that staff members care. Because, at times we forget, even on a staff member's worst day, they at times are a student's best hope.