I Don’t Keep Teaching Because Of Kids

sparkfunelectronics-keepteaching-fiI Don’t Keep Teaching Because Of Kids

by Paul Barnwell, mindfulstew.org

Ask most teachers why they teach, and you’ll hear iterations of the same theme: I want to make a difference in student lives. I love interacting with kids. I have an chance to change their trajectories.

I agree with the above, and it certainly applies to me too.

As a hybrid educator, my job entails teaching sophomore English and social media literacy courses for half a day; the other half I work to raise money, design, and implement new systems for networked collaborative learning. It’s a challenging blend of tasks. Despite the variety of authentic work I’m engaged in, the most fulfilling aspects of my role are still interacting with, teaching, and mentoring students.

When one of my English II lessons goes well and participation is as active as a whack-a-mole board (without the swatting of students, of course:), I have a bounce in my step as I head to the faculty parking lot after school. When a student seeks advice because I’ve written a note of encouragement for him or her, it provides fulfillment that writing grant proposals fails to do. When I have an opportunity to laugh and learn with students, I feel contentment with my work as a classroom teacher.

But without sustained, purposeful and engaging interaction with other professionals, I’d probably walk away from the classroom.

Given how fast many high-quality educators accrue degrees and certifications to move on to non-classroom posts, we must acknowledge that teaching as a profession has a void to fill.

There’s a void of authentic leadership opportunities and time for classroom teachers to work with other adults, without it being another thing on the to-do list. There’s a void of encouragement for teachers to pursue intellectual work with colleagues, whether it be face-to-face or networked collaboration. The lack of emphasis on adult collaboration and ongoing learning isn’t the only reason why teachers leave the classroom, of course, but it plays a large role for those of us who desire new challenges beyond being a full-time classroom teacher.

I think about why I’ve remained at least a half-time teacher for 12 years running–far beyond the average five-year tenure for new teachers–and it largely boils down to the boost I’ve gotten through different experiences working with other teachers.

Last year, my Fern Creek colleagues proved to be been invaluable. I dreaded third period last year. You name the challenge, and I faced it. Disengagement. Disruptions. Persistent teasing bordering on bullying. All issues that seeped into the classroom and eroded my sense of efficacy. I had two students removed by administration and enrolled in an alternative school for behavior-related issues. Through her writing, I learned another student was a rape victim, and two others spent stints in an in-patient care facility for mental illness. Two others had had family members die from drug overdoses, and another student’s brother committed suicide last summer.

My English colleagues provided a lifeline during our weekly PLC meetings, a chance to reflect, collaborate, and the encouragement to not give up in reaching such a challenging group of students. This is just one example about how meaningful learning and interaction with adults has kept me returning to room 146.

For five summers between 2007-2013, I attended Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English. The graduate program entered me into an international network of educators, and course work inspired me to create digital storytelling and social media literacy classes.

During the summer of 2012, I participated in the Louisville Writing Project, one of many institutes sponsored by the National Writing Project. Again, working with fired-up teachers–this time a cohort of Louisville-area folks, fueled my pedagogy and connected me with like-minded folks. I began that fall with a new network, fresh literacy strategies, and conference presentations lined up.

During 2014, I participated in Center for Teaching Quality’s VOICE training to learn more about facilitating virtual learning communities. Even though we never met face-to-face, the experience challenged me to think about how teachers in disparate geographic areas can collaborate using a variety of online tools.

What did these experiences have in common? The chance to improve my craft, learn from and with others, and enjoy a level of discourse that sometimes isn’t available when we shut our doors and focus solely on students without seeking support from colleagues.

Most of us don’t continue teaching for the amazing compensation, that’s for sure. We don’t continue teaching for recognition. Many of us continue teaching, however, because we’ve either sought out opportunities or have been encouraged to lead and learn with other adults.

The kids are still most important in my daily work, but they aren’t only reason why I do what I do. If teacher retention is to improve, then the profession must be treated as such, with more pathways for classroom teachers to participate in collegial activity that reenergizes and inspires them year after year.

I Don’t Keep Teaching Because Of Kids; adapted image attribution flickr user sparkfunelectronics