As political debates about education become more public and more polarized, it can seem like educators don’t agree on much. In spite of a few divisive issues, however, teachers still share a lot of common ground. Below are four statements on which almost all teachers agree.
Teachers are human.
Teacher time and energy are finite resources. Kids deserve teachers who will work tirelessly to help them reach their full potential. They also deserve a mentally healthy teacher who wants to be in the room with them and has the emotional reserves to show compassion when they need it. This means that – despite what the movies may suggest – it is actually counterproductive for teachers to take a second job to buy books or pull all-nighters planning field trips. It also means that schools and districts should plan around using teacher time and energy wisely.
Teaching conditions matter.
Does teacher quality matter? Absolutely. If we didn’t think that, we wouldn’t do this. However, insisting that great teachers can overcome endless obstacles doesn’t help kids nearly as much as it demoralizes teachers with harder assignments. Teachers want to work under the conditions that allow us to give kids the best possible education. Administrators who handle school-wide discipline, advanced warning before major schedule changes, and enough desks to match the number of students in a class are not luxuries. Teaching is tough. It’s not supposed to be masochistic.
The dial of change vs. stability needs to be monitored carefully.
Accusing someone of “defending the status quo” is always an insult, and it’s one that gets hurled quite frequently in the world of education politics. It certainly doesn’t sound like a great thing to do. At the same time, teachers know from experience that new prescriptions introduce the risk of new side effects. Even positive changes can undermine teaching if they are poorly planned, chaotic, or immediately plowed up and replaced by a new round of last-minute changes. With all the complaints about the status quo, it’s easy to forget that kids also need adults to be consistent. That’s easier said than done in today’s education climate. For teachers, constant change often is the status quo.
Being a teacher is hard. Being a new teacher is harder.
Beginners have to lay the tracks as they drive the train, and they spend much of the year feeling like they’re about to crash. Half of all teachers leave the profession by the end of their fifth year. Half of all inner-city teachers leave by the end of year three, and students at low-income schools are much more likely to have a beginning teacher at the front of the classroom. The great teachers of the future know they are not great yet. It is up to us to let them know they are not alone. The better we are at providing honest, compassionate, practical support, the more likely we are to keep the great teachers of the future in the classroom long enough to become great.