Save the Teacher!

We hear calls in the press, on the radio, and television to save different endangered species. Man has been asked to set aside land, change our cultivation, harvest, hunting and fishing practices for the sake of endangered species. Well, I am convinced after 33 years in Education that our battle cry needs to become "SAVE THE TEACHER!" Each week I meet more and more quality educational professionals who are leaving teaching. Current research shows concern over upcoming teacher shortages, as baby-boomers retire and as many young teachers are only lasting 3 years or less and then leave teaching. Teacher burnout and turnover are real and present dangers. Our nation is at risk of having shortage of teachers and many of those staying in teaching are endangered physically and emotionally. In researching endangered species, I found that the three major causes: environmental changes, pollution and overkill, are applicable to teachers. This article will discuss these and how to SAVE THE TEACHER from extinction. Environmental Changes Teachers are at risk due to environmental changes. By this I do not mean a volcano erupting, a drought, or an earthquake ,but forces many times more devastating. Schools erupting with volcanic fury into places of violence where teachers feel powerless to protect themselves and their students. Where children live in fear of terrorism and uncertain lives thus creating a climate of meanness and self preservation. This is not a natural eruption but one that has take place because we have failed to take a stand against small acts of violence and have gradually seen these escalate. Schools must be places where everyone feels safe. Having distinct boundaries and expectations for students in very important and keeping discipline meaningful and fair is a priority. It seems to me that when we started worrying about whether students felt good about themselves rather than whether they were learning we got gun shy and began to pander to the misbehaviors of students. This pandering is now being rewarded by violence and disrespect. If you look at the success stories that have been highly publicized in the media, where schools became safe places where ALL students could achieve, they had very strict boundaries and discipline policies. Students were encouraged to excel and empowered to do so. The abundance of the child was magnified and threat removed. This eruption must be stifled in order to protect not only our endangered teachers and students, but our society at large. A drought has hit our schools. This blight is in spirit of our teachers. After feeling helpless and impotent in many areas teachers are doubting their own capabilities. They have been surrounded by criticism, disapproval and condemnation. Standardized assessments, which fail to truly assess learning are held over teachers as clubs, trying to "motivate" them to teach better. Academic freedom is disappearing and the age of the one right answer, all on the same page, education is drying up creativity. Teachers need to drink from the well of encouragement, as do students. I have become acutely aware of the lack of support in many schools for teachers as professionals. They need to hear, "We trust you," "You're doing a great job," "thanks for caring," from administrators, colleagues and community. One way I have found effective to fill the wells of these drought stricken spirits is through creating teacher support groups. These groups of professionals meet to share their successes and receive aide from one another. These are not draining, site based management councils in which teachers are committeed to death. Those many times add to the deflation of the spirit due to impotence and ineffectual leadership. These collegial communities support one another when there is no support. Also, let the community know what a great job we are doing. In my article "A Call to Be Businesslike", schools were encouraged to toot their own horn. Teachers need to pull together and make the community and themselves acutely aware that "I'm a teacher, I touch the future!" Every few years an earthquake hits American schools. These pendulums crash through our school systems creating chasms, destruction and frustration. As the "newest, greatest" innovation is touted by publishers and administrators it divides staffs and creates gaping holes in relationships and curriculum. Many this these pendulum swings are so so extreme that they are destructive to the quality of teaching and learning as teachers told to throw out "traditional" ways of doing things. This many times means throwing out the baby with the bath water. The devastation of pendulum swings is also seen in teacher frustration. I constantly hear, "I was just getting used to..." "They want me to...but no one has taught me how to..." "I am so frustrated... I thought I was doing a good job... and now..." These are but a few of the cries from the hearts of teachers who have been buffeted around by the pendulum. We must establish a sifter (Stop the Pendulum,) to establish and reject those fads that do not fit; how students learn, best practice, sound research, and management possibilities, etc. When we take control of the pendulum, teachers will be less at risk of extinction because our clientele will be less critical and more supportive. And we will be more secure in our position and achievements. Pollution Another force that has endangered our wildlife is pollution. When I began to delve into my metaphor I found that pollution in also endangering teachers. This happens when the curriculum grows and the responsibility grows but the time allowed for teaching doesn't. Our classrooms are polluted with separate subjects and areas of study that "someone" deemed necessary. As I began to narrow my focus to become more effective as a professional, I found it essential to begin by identifying the roles in the classroom. By clearly knowing that I wanted was for all of my students to become effective Gainers of Knowledge and Communicators of Knowledge, I could focus and head in the right direction. I constantly asked myself, "How does the activity achieve my goals?" The other air clearer was to integrate the curriculum. This way children could be involved in process, products and practice within a meaningful context. Reading, writing, speaking, listening, thinking and producing are not isolated self sufficient skills. Neither is content isolated from learning these tools. I find that I am less in danger when I have my goals set and integrate my curriculum to provide meaning, purpose and engagement. Overkill I know that talking about teachers with a word like overkill is drastic, but I am concerned because I see teachers that are killing themselves for the sake of teaching. We as teachers need to practice "SAVE THE TEACHER" techniques that will improve our efficiency. Some tips include: 1. Plan with a partner. This way you can divide and conquer the tasks of planning, researching and creating materials. 2. Do with students not for them. Always look for ways in which students can aide in the process instead of teacher doing it all. For instance, don't edit student writing; teach students how to peer edit and facilitate step by step editing conferences. Also, practice nagging. As students war working roam the classroom nagging for the right answers or appropriate skills. Students do not see this as a criticism but will have much greater success if you nag. 3. Give responsibility to students for ANY task they can do. I always had a policy that I didn't do anything for a student that they could do for themselves. This included cleaning, organizing, correcting, attendance, lunch count, keeping track of assignments, etc. 4. Curb the interruptions that discipline causes by: o Proximity - be up and near students. o Participation - be a learner in your classroom, this adds respect. o Politeness - treat your children with politeness and firmness. Pandering or sarcasm defeat discipline. o Positive position - Your students need to know your expectations. Mine was "I will stop no one from doing their job (gaining or communication); I will always make it easier for them. I work with this principle at the application level with students. Asking key questions such as; what are you doing? (help identify the behavior) How is that helping...gain, communicate? (identify change you desire to see made) What will you do next time? I do all this in a whisper during proximity with my hand on their shoulder. o Promote pride - I strive to assist my students down the road of success by using encouragement rather than praise. I focus their attention of specific personal accomplishments and self pride. This is done quietly and without the fanfare which many times accompanies praise. I want my students to gain character and to build their spirits and self perception. o Provide an inclusive community where children are valued and esteemed by each other. Where appreciation and active listening are the norm and put-downs don't exist. These are but a few of the strategies to resist overkill which I share in my seminars. I find teachers welcome ideas that will help them to have "LIFE BEYOND THE CLASSROOM!" SAVE THE TEACHER needs to become our cause. We must rally together, pool our resources and share our passion in order to help our species survive and thrive. It is not only imperative for our sake but for the sake of our nation's youth and our nation as a whole.