Tuesday, March 12, 2013

What a Teacher Needs

So much of what we hear about in education is about student needs. I've yet to meet a teacher who didn't consider student needs in education. I've met plenty of teachers who've set aside their own needs, however. I keep coming back to that image of putting your own oxygen mask on before trying to help someone else with theirs. As teachers, how can we best cope with student needs if we forget about our own?

If a teacher is stressed, irritated or otherwise out of sorts, it only makes sense that s/he cannot create the optimal environment for student learning. If we as a culture want to get real results, we'll offer meaningful help to teachers and we won't penalize them for being human and slipping up periodically.

Mentorships/Partnerships: One great way to give teachers support is through mentorship programs. Often mentors go about their way after a year or two, but a mentor program could be so much more. School systems could pair up teachers who work really well together to offer each other support, creative planning ideas and a compassionate ear. Granted much of this would be predicated upon people choosing each other and allowing people to change partnerships when needed, and until schools put something in place, it will be up to teachers to create these sorts of relationships for themselves.

This type of mentorship gets a bit messy. Humans are messy though. In order to get optimal results from a program such as this, you'd have to have comprehensive buy-in and you couldn't do it halfway. Schools systems would have to offer co-planning periods in which teachers could get together with each other for some productive time--be that winding down from a stressful situation or working ahead on plans. 

These relationships would be points of contact between teachers who would use the time productively. We may have to shift our view of productivity, however. Productivity isn’t always a flurry of activity, but well may be a time in which people get together to release pent up tension and frustration in a more productive manner than through continual professional frustration and burnout.

Sometimes, teachers need someone to tell them they aren’t crazy, or cranky or rude; but rather that their feelings about a given situation are valid and appropriate. They also need someone who can help steer them toward healthy management of stress, anxiety and frustration. Basically, teachers need teacher-friends who can help bring them back to center.

Coordinated Support: This would require a lead teacher or consultant whose job it would be to come into the classroom and really get to know the teachers in a single department. This consultant would gather data and interview faculty about each teacher's strengths and weaknesses and then implement a plan for improvement. This plan for improvement would utilize the strengths of the department in order to help every teacher with a personal area of struggle.

For example, if I'm really good at teaching grammar creatively and my kids wind up with a solid grammar foundation year after year, but Mr. Jones is struggling with grammar, the consultant would pair me in a partnership with Mr. Jones. Our goal would be to target Mr. Jones' specific needs in lesson planning and dissemination of ideas and concepts as they relate to grammar. Or maybe Mr. Jones' just never 'got' grammar and that would become the focus, because we can't teach what we don't know!

On the other hand, if I'm struggling with organization, our consultant may bring in Ms. Doe who is great at keeping herself--and her kids--organized. She would work collaborative with me, share ideas and point out potential pitfalls with my current structure or any new structure we come up with. She will be my go-to expert for help.

In this situation, regardless of who is receiving or giving the helps, teachers are working together in a coordinated manner. Whether through the mentorship or a partnership, teachers are acknowledged for their strengths (becoming a mentor or lead) and are helped out so that weaknesses don’t feel so…well, weakening.

This is what I'm looking to do with my consulting business: go in and work with teachers in a targeted manner to help teachers become the best they can be. I can coordinate these services and act as a mentor to teachers who need one to gain focus. After all, it is the focused teacher--the one with the oxygen mask--who can best serve student needs.