Cynicism in education grows from working within cycles of transformational mandates that never seem to transform as much as they promise. In my 20 years of classroom experiences, I have rewritten my curricula at least 6 different times. I have loaded assessments into at least the same number of platforms with studies of data and maps of progression. Each new policy did away with the data and the data systems or the promise that the change will benefit the teachers. Sooner or later every educator finds themselves at odds with a mandate and a decision to make about the role they play in the new system. If an individual sets aside all that they currently practice, they flounder with the students, if they stay with what they know, they are at odds with their administration. Thus, teacher burnout. Colleagues and mentors quit when they no longer had the energy to comply instead of retiring at the height of their career. In my observation, this system leaves much to be desired. I began asking myself, what skills are my greatest asset in teaching? Ideologically, what makes me happy? Self-reflection was not easy; processing through writings and updating my resume did help me to focus on simple and honest answers. Who am I? What values do I really offer?
Several veteran educators I know recently retired after 30 and 40 years of devotion to education. They were revered and admonished for a pedagogy predicated in routine instruction with routine assessment. Routines present a culture of normalcy and expectations that parents who also graduated from this community could enforce or encourage. On the other hand, too much routine presented resentment or distrust in kids who struggle to learn and needed the differentiated instruction that developed over the years. New teachers embrace change well but lacked consistent classroom management. Those of us in the middle were in a state of perpetual mediocrity. Adapting to new technologies or methodology was taxing and became derisive, creating a social gap in the faculty based on years of experience. We all know how to teach, our record shows this, but our methodology for improvement only served to prevent unification or consent. Instead of a focus on incentives were focused on a fallacy- what are we doing wrong? Why am I still here? There’s nowhere to go.
However, a renaissance is taking place with veteran teachers. While I have never wanted to leave teaching for administration it has been the traditional path with the greatest reward. Instead, I made a decision to work towards a second certification and a Masters in a field outside my content area. While I found this niche in literacy, my husband embraced a transitional move towards technology integration, and a colleague pursued STEM studies. Suddenly, dual certification was a value; our flexibility in various fields meant that we could work with our administration to design the parameters of our new roles and fill required services. An English teacher creating a game design, a science teacher revamps a tech ed class with STEM studies and robotics. The benefit of having veterans morphing into new positions en par with new hires means everyone is communicating with the same research, same common terminology. The nervous excitement stimulates discussion for shared lessons and ideas. Healthy transitions lead to organic collaboration, empathy is a positive force.
Values in education shifted when classrooms stopped being contained in physical spaces. Online communities, weekly Twitter chats, and forums through Twitter or sometimes Facebook led me to a paradigm shift. Blogs and #edu sites were the question/answers and experimentation I never had time for during the day. Through this wider network, I was made aware of conferences, model school communities, grants, and fellowships. I became a beta tester for applications and wrote reviews of products. I found a courage to present at conferences and to defend my research. These dialogues fuel appreciation and respect which I could then share with my students. Their input was invaluable and the changes were part of their reality. Suddenly my future was less bleak. I have expanded the classroom beyond the physical walls of the school; I’m no longer contained. Then the power of positive feedback led me and my husband to consider an ultimate risk: we applied to teach abroad. Two years of goal setting, building a resume and designing active research led me to know that who I am is more important than where I am.
We found ourselves accepting positions in new fields of study in the Dominican Republic. Our current school afforded us a two-year leave. Right now we are a bridge between these school communities that offers enrichment we couldn’t offer before. And everyone likes this power of positive feedback. I sat with several other new teachers here in this new school and discovered that they too took a risk, gave up all that was safe and secure to seek the excitement of teaching that was somehow lost amongst the years of experience. Starting fresh so far from home meant an opportunity to reinvent identity. In our discussions, we have all come to the conclusion that we live in an era now where learning is not only linear, and our futures do not have to be predictable. The future of education is reliant on feedback between educators, administrators, and students who have roles as agents of change. Even if the choice is to stay grounded, to find value in routine, it works because it is a nerve-citement choice.
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