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- OMG - My Feet are Killing Me! Back to the Classroom - December 14, 2016
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The final bell rang and I look out over the sea of empty desks in my classroom. “Where is everyone?” I ask the spattering of students who showed up. The response: “Team 2 has a field trip today.”
Ah. It’s not easy being an ‘off-team teacher’ in a team-based middle school. We are always the last to know anything, are rarely asked for input in the decision making process, and suffer through our careers with classifications such as, ‘specials’, ‘essentials’ and ‘encore’. All of which are euphuisms for ‘non-tested’.
How to Cope:
1. Be the communicator. If nobody tells you anything, then you must become a question-asking machine. Make sure that you receive the minutes of any team meetings you cannot attend. Ask for them. Send out a master-plan of what your students will be studying on a monthly basis in order to open the door for interdisciplinary collaboration. Use the kids. There are always students around who’s perked up ears get all the scuttle-butt. Don’t be passive-aggressive (like I used to do) and pretend you don’t know about something until someone ‘official’ tells you. If you hear it from a kid, go ask the team.
2. Have a policy. It is extremely frustrating to have half of the class show up one day when you weren’t expecting it. After a couple of years, I developed the following policies. 1.) If more than half the class is absent, I will not go over new material. This does not mean I don’t teach, but the students in the class might have a ‘homework amnesty day’, or we play Spanish language games, or set up a peer tutoring session where the students help each other with the concepts with which they are struggling. 2.) If more than half of the students are in class, I hold class as usual, and if that involves doing something new, so be it. I will provide any materials to the absent students (PowerPoint, practice activities), as well as links to websites that can introduce the students to the concepts missed (Khan Academy or others). Finally, as I improve my ability to ‘flip’ my classroom, they can view the introduction of the new material at home. 3) If a student is in the building for any part of the day, they are responsible for getting their homework to me the day it is due. They can put it in my mailbox, give it to a friend to pass along, slip it under my door, put it under my windshield wiper or send it by courier pigeon. But it is due when everyone else’s is due.
These policies are laid out in the first week of school. All of the teachers on all of the teams in the building know them and I send the policy home to the parents for their sign-off in the first week.
3. Embrace the Common Core. Most of us off-team, non-tested teachers were common core before there was a Common Core. We have always used multiple and innovative ways to communicate. That which we teach students is skill-based and not specific to content. I teach children to communicate in French and Spanish. We might be studying art, music, history or grammar. We might discuss Mexico, Miami or Spain. It is the communication skills that are essential. We need to offer to help the core teachers who maybe so possessive of ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ that they are lost as to how to teach without it.
4. Data, data, data. Using data to inform instruction and track student growth Is the most effective way to prove to other teachers and/or building administrators that we add-value. Don’t wait until someone else asks you to create common assessments using common rubrics. As I have told many colleagues, we need to do this ourselves, before someone else does it to us. We are the experts in our content areas and we know what the objectives we need to meet are. As a world language teacher, I not only tracked data on student oral and written proficiency, but also on reading in English. I taught students how a linguist reads and monitored their progress. I was able to show my administration that not only was I an effective French and Spanish teacher, but I was effective in supporting the school’s goal of improving reading across the content areas.
5. Get over it. I know that sounds harsh and uncaring, but whining and complaining the situation does nothing to make it better. “We are only here to give the core teachers their free periods” is a common lament for off-team teachers. Heaven help you if you fall into that trap! We are in the school for the same reason as all teachers . . . to connect with kids, to make their lives richer, to save lives, to keep the most academically-unengaged students from dropping out and, yes, to deliver our content. Every teaching assignment has its perks and its disadvantages. As an off-team world language teacher, I usually did not have my own classroom. I never had a budget. I was an afterthought in the decision-making process. I would be missing a third of my students without notice on any given day . . . but you know what? I was not stressed out beyond belief because of the test scores.
My curriculum and instructional strategies were not dictated to me by anyone else. I got to teacher what I wanted, when I wanted and how I wanted. I had so much more freedom than the ‘core’ teachers.
It is unlikely that we are going to be able to make a systematic change in our schools to change our status from off-team to on-team. As professionals, it is up to us to make the situation work and not take it personally. It is would be a budget buster to have an art, music, Spanish, technology and PE teacher on every team. It is not going to happen except in the rarest of cases. With a good attitude, sense of self-worth and self-efficacy, it is very possible to flourish as an off-team teacher.