Continuing with the second week prompt for this blogging challenge, I will preface my answer by saying I am enjoying this respite from the intense debates over educational issues; most especially, the sales tax debate going on in my city of Jacksonville, Florida. (Should the school board be allowed to place a referendum on a ballot to authorize an additional half-cent sales tax to rebuild or repair the city’s public schools?)
Ponder your Professional Past
What has contributed to the educator you are today?
- Sound mentors. Not the usual ones although school systems have long noted the importance of mentors in accustoming new teachers to the classroom and assign a mentor through the district-based system. I have found those mentors have the best of intentions, but most of the time the mentoring doesn’t work out for some reason.
- My first year, a program I has signed up for provided a retired principal to visit my classroom and work with me. I wish I remember her name for she deserves a lot of credit for helping me grasp the dynamics of the classroom, how to effortlessly bring the students into productive learning, simple techniques to manage the classroom, and more. The advantage was that she could visit at any time of the school day, whereas a teacher-mentor had to squeeze me into an already crowded planning period agenda.
- Other teachers. Since my early years, I have volunteered to mentor other teachers, but beyond the planning time problem, there is also a proximity issue. I don’t work in the main building. Therefore, teachers assigned to me do not see me on a regular basis. The most valuable teachers were those I worked among, who were willing to make themselves available and talk over the problems I had, offer solutions, and would do whatever task I needed to comply with the mentoring program. (Often, district-based mentoring programs can be less than useful in their burdensome and time-consuming requirements they demand. In fact, district-based mentoring programs end up being anything than mentoring; they actually become another annoying series of tasks a new teacher must perform to qualify for contract renewal.)
- Badass Teachers Association. Through joining their group, I was exposed to different points of view of how people experience the world. They helped me to understand the viewpoints of people different from myself and how often, when I thought I was helping, I received pushback from students whose life experiences were different from my own. Even today, I am grateful for those who continue to share the viewpoints of people of color and how their perceptions differ from the dominant culture.
- Supportive administrators. I have been blessed to work for great principals who allow their teachers to get on with the job and try to clear the way of obstacles that come from district edicts, misguided state laws and regulations, and zealous district coaches who have to find fault to justify their positions. Among my favorites is one who told me after I had gained experience that I was my own expert; I knew what I could do and I knew what I needed to learn and she trusted me to design my own professional learning program.
- My students. Sometimes needy, sometimes not needing me at all, I have listened to their voices and complaints. They don’t always say it the right way, but I sift through their feedback of complaining, hallway gossip (it’s amazing what kids will say even when adults are around to hear it), answering my surveys … Many times they have revealed to me how I can be a better teacher for their learning needs.