There are always challenges when you teach. Some of the greatest challenges I'm thinking about right now include the following:
Students Who Need More
When we look out at our students, we always notice more needs than we are able to fill. This, I believe, is a natural feeling for teachers and one that tears at us. There is not one child in my charge that cannot learn, but there are some who would profit from greater one-to-one help, afters school programs, more consistency in routines, and less students in the classroom.
As I listen to the school committee meetings and budget reports, I also think about these needs. I wonder if it's better to have smaller class sizes than new programs that only support a few students. Yet innovation is important. I wonder if we are stretching our special education staff too think by giving them caseloads that are too great--is this the best solution long term. And as I say again and again, I worry that we're supporting too many positions that don't have direct time-on-task with students. Also, do we have a long range plan for our agin buildings and furniture--is it time to begin imagining and then working towards more modern learning environments for elementary students--environments that match the research for a modern-day education.
I am fortunate to work in a system that has many resources so our needs in comparison to other schools are far less. In talking to a group of teachers who serve on the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education recently, it was so clear to me that citizens have to stand up and speak up for the children of the state. Too many children are facing dire consequences at home and at school due to grave social and economic issues as well as not enough good support to deal with those issues. These children will be future adults, and what we do now for them will translate into a stronger and better state late on. We have to help systems who face great poverty and tremendous social issues to get what they need to serve their students well.
We do have to build greater respect for educators, students, and families at school. We can't continue to treat teachers in ways that belittle and demean them, but instead educators should be treated with respect as well as high expectations. Good communication, inclusive decision making, respect for educators' professional experience and expertise, and supports that are meaningful and beneficial are ways to make that respect visible. Of course, greater distributive leadership which results in teacher voice, choice, and leadership is the way to build that respect. As I've noted before models of distributive leadership seem to occur in high schools and middle schools much more often than elementary schools. It seems to me that many elementary schools still have structures that don't promote respect and teacher leadership as much. This is a challenge ready for change.
Doing My Part
You can't speak up if you are not willing to work at your own development and improvement too. There's so much that I can continue to do to improve my practice to serve students well. Right now that translates into meaningful math lessons, positive science lessons, building and supporting a strong classroom and grade-level community, supporting my colleagues in ways that I can, and contributing to new programming.
Earlier this week I questioned whether I wanted to do the work with regard to the program creation and innovation possible as the support seemed lacking, but even without good support, I believe that this is one area I can contribute to and will make the time to do that in the days to come. Our team has many good ideas about how to deepen the learning program for students, and without the extra efforts those ideas won't come to fruition.
As always, too, educators can't spread themselves out too thin either. When we try to do too much, we often end up doing less. I want to be cognizant of this as I complete a number of important tasks in the weeks ahead, tasks including completion of progress reports, student portfolio work, parent-teacher-student conferences, continued efforts related to the classroom science/STEAM lab, and our will to build a more culturally proficient program.