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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Reflection: Year 30

Tomorrow a few colleagues and I will be honored for teaching in the same school system for 30 years. It has been a long and varied path of teaching and learning.

The four of us who share this honor have navigated our school responsibilities along with our family responsibilities throughout those years. We have all made some same and different choices with regard to our professional work in that time.

I must say that as I stand at this 30-year mark, I am humbled for there is still lots to learn and reach for as I move ahead in the profession.

Thanks to the Internet and the ready share of educators near and far, I don't think there has been a better time for teaching and learning with regard to knowledge access--we can easily access terrific teaching and learning information today, information that empowers our teaching efforts and student learning.

When I started teaching 30 years ago, the teaching/learning environment was much more relaxed. The teaching day was shorter and the accountability factors such as standardized tests much less. I continue to find myself on the fence in this regard since I do think that the accountability measures, in some ways, have empowered better teaching with regard to some at risk groups and students. My students read, write, and demonstrate math proficiency with much greater strength at fifth grade than in the past.

On the other hand, I think that teacher empowerment, confidence, and satisfaction is at a low point since these accountability measures have, in many ways, served to demean and demoralize teachers. I think we can do an even better job as we move ahead by streamlining and targeting accountability measures, invigorating positive, teacher/student-friendly environments, and looking to improve important systematic issues when it comes to teaching and learning well.

Another troubling change in my 30 years of teaching is the increase in student poverty and the gap between the have's and have not's. This is a very troubling trend and one that creates a real challenge to the work we do as educators. Recently at The MTA Annual Union Meeting, a teacher told a story of two siblings who shared a pair of shoes. A friend who works in a disadvantaged system also remarked that the lack of good shoes plays a big role for her students. Further we hear story after story about students whose parents are very challenged when it comes to providing the necessary supports that enable a child to learn, supports such as good nutrition, proper sleep, adequate care, safe homes, and health care. Teachers who work in systems where poverty plays a major role are challenged greatly, and I think our country has what it needs to remedy this terrible problem. I never thought I'd experience a downturn like this during my lifetime.

At this 30-year mark, I am making a renewed commitment to teaching well. I honor educators everywhere who meet each day with a will to teach well. I look to these educators for inspiration, new ideas, and the strength to improve and develop my craft.

I continue to believe that strong schools and a quality education lay the foundation for a strong country and a good life, and that's why I remain committed to my profession and the good work possible.