I was sitting in a meeting just this morning and was reminded of the alphabet stew that feeds my profession. In just sixty minutes, I heard MTSS, RTI, SLT, AP, AVID, CTE, ELD, STEM, VAPA, GATE, NGSS, PTA and WASC, and I hadn’t even yet opened my emails for the day.
As a teacher, it’s easy to get lost in the acronyms; it’s easy to get lost in the data, initiatives, programs, and next-best research discoveries that fuel this maelstrom of education-ese. Education, unfortunately, seems to be a business of self-perpetuating confusion.
As a teacher, it’s also easy to lose focus on what matters most, to get lost in the confusion, and to forget the why we chose this profession in the first place -- the children.
My meeting this morning was focused on student support systems. During this sixty-minute meeting, we discussed concepts such as “top-tier intervention” and “sink or swim.” And as we bantered about the how’s and why’s and what for’s, I found myself thinking about my job as a teacher. I found myself thinking about why so many students are in peril. About why some kids succeed and others fail. About what constitutes teaching. I came away with a few thoughts.
My job isn’t to just teach content. Although content is an important component of what we do as educators, the real work happens outside of the content. But oftentimes it is a student’s mastery of content that primarily drives a teacher, rather than the “outside of the content” work I argue is more important.
I wrote down a few thoughts about what constitutes this “outside of the content” work and narrowed it down to a few key phrases; my job as a teacher is to help kids find success, be their best, feel safe, find importance, and, ultimately, be inspired to tackle the world. I’m not talking about encouraging entitlement or inflating self esteem -- I’m talking about having compassion. I want every student to know he matters, and that I won’t let him fall between the cracks. That’s my real work.
When talking to my family or to friends at the end of a work day, I am often flip or dismissive about my job. I respond to their “How was your day?” question with something like “Great! Just inspiring young minds.” I respond with this phrase almost every time I am faced with this greeting, and I never fail to get a laugh. But today, my after-meeting thoughts left me reflecting on my role as a teacher. As much as I enjoy the laugh I get with my response, I do know that my work matters.
My work matters because every child matters. So when we talked this morning about supporting students, I wanted to remind us all that EVERY child matters: the high achievers, the average students, those with learning disabilities, those who need intensive intervention, and those who just need a smile or a pat on the back. And they matter in a way more than simply a grade can expose. And I matter more than just my content.
I never want to underestimate the power and influence I have on my students. A hurtful word can be just as impactful, if not more so, than a kind and encouraging word. When I have students who excel, do I reach out to them to continue to push? When I have students who struggle, do I consider my role in their struggles and ask myself what I can do to help them find success? Do I ensure I’ve done everything I can to impact each of my students in a positive way every day? Would I want my own child treated the way I just treated a student? No student deserves to be forgotten, and every student deserves my attention regardless their achievement level. And sometimes more because of it.
I find it hard to hear excuses from teachers -- excuses about too many students, too little time, too much testing, or too little money. At the end of the day, none of the excuses can excuse a teacher from the responsibility of making sure that every child is treated fairly and with compassion. And by “fair,” I don’t mean equal; I mean meeting the needs of all students -- all the time.
All we can hope is that all teachers do this same reflection. That all teachers who interact with our children on a daily basis reflect about their role in our children’s lives.
Parents, it’s time we start demanding this compassion from our children’s teachers. Knock on the teachers’ classroom doors, expect them to know your child, and don’t accept any excuse for their not meeting your child’s needs.
Our children are more than an acronym -- they are the business of education.