Tuesday is for Teachers
HABITS OF HEART FOR TEACHERS
Courage: Part 1: change of perspective, count the gifts in each day
In today’s post I want to encourage you to have the courage you need in some tricky and difficult situations by doing the right thing and standing up for children. I know, “doing the right thing” is not very specific. It’s one of those fuzzy ideas that can’t be measured; you sure can’t write an objective for it.
Perhaps an example will be useful here. As a special education teacher in a regular middle school, I spent 15 years advocating administrators and teachers to include my students in all the typical activities that other students participated in. I fought some inclusion battles in the 1990s when I found it necessary to advocate for my students to be included in P.E. classes or pep rallies, etc.
Today, inclusion is much more prevalent in schools, but unfortunately it still is not everywhere. Eating lunch with all the other students may be accepted without question in your school, but I’ve recently seen special ed. students sitting off to the side of the “regular” students. When you walk into the cafeteria you see most of the students in long rows of tables while the special ed. students sit together with an assistant or teacher, essentially ignored by all the other students.. This is inclusion by proximity but not truly inclusion. Doing the right thing here is to present a plan to the principal or designated staff person that will include students. (See my post on Lunch Buddies for ideas.)
Standing up for students may seem like an automatic response for teachers, but I’ve worked in some places where students were not the priority. I think the current atmosphere of testing to make a specific score so the school will look good has taken the place of focusing on the needs of students. Testing should not be the main concern of educators; the student is the primary concern. Not too long ago, I attended a faculty meeting in which the assistant principal apologized to the faculty. Teachers, can you remember when an administrator apologized to the faculty? Doesn’t happen often. In the fall we moved into a remodeled building. Not surprisingly, the work was not completed, and we had construction crews all over our building. Our assistant principal apologized for letting the details of the building take priority over students. It was so easy to lose sight of who should be first that year; thermostats didn’t work right, furniture was missing, and there was a grand opening to plan.
The principal’s job is one of the most difficult jobs in the field of education. I believe this because I walked in those shoes a number of times. I used to think it would be a great opportunity to be a principal, to set some things right, refocus the culture of a school, put into practice all those policies and strategies I learned in seminars and college classes. Opening school and working through the first month was enough for me. However, because of the insights I experienced in those days I I learned that it’s very hard for a principal or assistant principal to remember the “real world” – the classroom. It’s so easy for administrators to focus on the legal, procedural, or system policies and forget the classroom dynamics. That’s why sometimes it takes courage for a teacher to stand for what is right, to stand up for students, to tackle difficult issues with administrators.
The climate of education at this time in our country feels as though the teacher is the cause of poor test scores. The teacher is quickly blamed for pretty much all that is wrong in education. I pray that teachers will focus on the needs of their students, have confidence to use the best strategies, and be ready to explain to any critic the reason behind their practice. Teaching today requires more stamina, more patience, and more courage than ever before.
Standing for what is right with administrators requires wisdom and tact. Choose your battles carefully. Ranting over all the little problems will dull the ears of the listener when you have a big issue to address. Careful research and planning, calm reason, and clearly articulated ideas will be more effective than “shooting from the hip”.
Courage, my friends in education. You teach the minds, hearts, and souls of students. Remember what is important and above all, take care of yourself and count your blessings.
Counting noble, brave, and strong teachers who believe students come first as gifts to society. Thank God for you.