In between the Coca-Cola and DreamWorks ads I have been watching the Winter Olympics with my family. I couldn’t help but think about the paths these Olympic athletes have taken to achieve this level of competition. To represent one’s own country in anything must be quite humbling yet extremely satisfying. The Olympic athletes must be disciplined and dedicated to their life’s passion. I enjoy being an educator, I really do. I am passionate about my content area, English. I relish my daily interactions with students. I am honored to join my colleagues in collaboration. I love it when former students can remember something, anything really, from their time in my classroom and they even have the courage to tell me. I applaud the young students I teach when I see them 10 years later as successes in the path they chose after high school.
Recently I was reading a list of the top characteristics of great teachers from Suite101.com. As I was looking at that list I recognized many of those characteristics in myself and the colleagues that teach right next door to me, down the hall, or on the other side of the building. Most educators I know have a sense of humor, are intuitive, know and have a passion for their content, model effective listening skills, are articulate, pay attention to detail, challenge the status quo, can perform in front of people, and have the ability to hold students accountable.
Yet, year after year, we find ourselves in meetings discussing the failures. That’s when I start to second guess myself in my knowledge and ability to help students get to the next level of their education. I mean, sooner or later, if we keep talking about it and no change is evident in student performance, then I must be completely fooled by the ‘great’ characteristics I see in myself and my colleagues, right? We really need to celebrate more the outstanding successes we see in our students. What is expected is often overlooked, though, isn’t it?
What factors in education emerge as a fog enveloping those above mentioned characteristics of great teachers? Why do educators lose their sense of self, the part that motivates them to teach 180 some odd days out of the year? Why, instead of raising the bar and having great expectations of every student in our classroom, do educators ‘dumb down’ the curriculum and, as long as students stay awake in our classes, we will find ways for them to pass? Why do teachers shy away from taking risks and opening themselves up? A colleague recently suggested that teachers, by their very nature, are not risk takers. I disagree. I stand up in front of more than 100 students a day and do the best I can despite insecurities or challenges I might be faced with in other areas of my life. Each and every morning when I arrive at school I want to make a difference in one life.
Some may argue that support from administration in discipline and curriculum is inconsistent. I am confident that administrators are trained to get the best out of their teachers. I am confident that administrators, when asked for help from a teacher, know that teacher has made every intervention possible. It is humbling for any employee to seek input from their supervisor. Administrators must be teachers of teachers.
When educators lose trust in their ability and the infrastructure within which they work, education truly becomes work. The enthusiasm turns into bitterness; the passion turns to survival of the fittest. I was watching the couples figure skating last night in the Olympics. What an illustration of trust between two people. Both are relying on each other to collaborate on an individual level which results in an end product that will be nothing short of excellence. I couldn’t help to think of the amount of hours and sacrifice the figure skaters put in with their coaches, their leaders, to produce a flawless, passionate performance. I don’t mind work, in fact I like to roll up my sleeves, get my hands dirty, and work up a sweat from time to time. I don’t mind helping my colleagues out when they might be struggling with strategies, lesson plans, or even personal issues for that matter.
Like those figure skaters that have made it to Winter Olympic competition, we too have to collaborate with our leaders, earn trust with each other, and put in hours of work and sacrifice to produce passionate, problem-solvers that will be successful performers in whatever it is they chose to do when they exit our classrooms. Our students deserve that much from all of us and I know that educators are doing that everywhere. All teachers need to be allowed to let their light shine, accentuate their strengths, and ultimately help students achieve a high degree of success. This is a humbling responsibility for educators, yet the end result will be satisfying. The educators I have been fortunate to have worked with ARE great teachers!