Monday, November 28, 2011

It's all in the attitude!

Colonial Williamsburg
You don't know how much I needed that...

The article linked to above was brought to my attention by the Mid-Del Public Schools Foundation, with the comment that I might have something to add.  What a high compliment indeed!  Seeing as this was a post on Facebook, I knew I wouldn't have enough space to answer there.  Fortunately for me, I have my very own blog I can use.  :D

Reading that article made me think about what I would tell a first year teacher about professional development.  What could I offer to someone in the position that this young teacher was in?  What would it be like to be in place where there was such dissatisfaction with the profession and such bitterness?  I am very fortunate that I am not and have never been in such a position.  However, I know that it happens.  I expect it will be happening more and more as the "reformers" get their way.  So, what do I tell that young teacher?

1.  It all starts with an attitude.   You notice I don't say it starts with a good attitude.  I mean it starts with an ATTITUDE!  There is strength in attitude, and you are going to need all of it you can get.  Teaching is not easy.  It will challenge you in ways that you never expected.  It will tug at your heart strings, and it will frustrate you to no end.  Your students will challenge every belief you hold.  They will test you, annoy you and challenge you.  They will also love you unconditionally, celebrate your every achievement and depend on you for more than you ever thought they would.  For some, you are the only constant.  For some, you are the only one who shows them love.  For some, you are the only one who listens to them.  For some, you are the only one who teaches them.  At least for the short time you have them.  What does this have to do with Professional Development?  Everything.  Because THEY are why you do it.  Not your administrators, not the politicians, not your friends, family or colleagues.  Your students are the ones you work for.  In the end, remembering that will get you through all kinds of trials.

2.  Don't be afraid.  Don't be afraid to admit you don't know something, and don't be afraid to show your students that you don't know it -- yet.  Search out opportunities to increase your knowledge.  You will find that it will make your teaching more effective when you can follow the rabbit trails your students will lead you on.  Then you can re-direct your teaching to include their interests, or you can re-direct your students thinking so that they are no longer following an incorrect trail.

Don't be afraid to go alone.  You may not be able to find anyone to attend a Professional Development program with you.   Go anyway.  You will make connections there that you might not have if you were there with others you know.  It will pull you out of your comfort zone, and that is necessary for growth.

Don't be afraid to try something new.  It may or may not work, but whatever happens you will have learned something - and so will your students.  Bring something back from every program you attend and try it in the classroom.  You never know what might strike a chord in your students.  You may reach them in a way you never could have before.

Don't be afraid to lead.  You may not be a veteran teacher - yet - but you still have something to offer.   Share what you learn from the programs you attend.  Be willing to help others do what you are doing, and always make the time.  The more open you are with your ideas and your time, the better chance you have at being able to change those bitter attitudes.  On the flip side, be willing to listen.  Veteran teachers have put in the time - they know their stuff.

Standing in the cupola at Mt. Vernon
3.  Don't depend on someone to do it for you.   Go out and find opportunities that interest you.  If you only go to mandatory professional development, chances are you are going to be very bored.  Not that some of them aren't fun and engaging, but much fun can you have learning about FERPA, blood born pathogens or API analysis?  Not to say you can't get anything out of them - remember #1. Use those to bond with your colleagues.  Outside of mandatory PD, there are tons of opportunities for you to go to workshops across the curriculum.  Not only that, there are people who are willing to pay you to do it!  I've traveled across the country on someone else's dime so that I can go do something that is a blast.  I've played with robots, seen the rings of Saturn, watched the sun through a telescope and built moon landers.  I've climbed mountains, dug for fossils, walked the streets of Williamsburg and enjoyed the sunset from the porch of Mount Vernon.  I've learned photography from people who have photographed the President, Lady Bird Johnson, America's Top Model and a hidden tribe in Africa.  Apply for anything and everything.  You never know!

4.  Have an open mind.  You may teach a defined curriculum, but you don't have to restrict yourself to what you teach.  Be flexible in both the content and the grade level of the professional development you find.  You can always adapt what you learn to what you teach, and it will show your kids that learning is a never ending process.  Some of my best lessons for my elementary school classroom have come from high school level professional development.

Freddy is looking at the sun (and yes, I did too!)
5.  Be willing to put yourself in the place of your students. I don't mean the student at the top of the class either.  I mean the one who struggles.  That means taking workshops in areas that you don't do very well in .  For me, it was science.  I was always a good student, so struggling was not something I was used to.  However, science and math were the subjects where I only took the required courses and nothing further.  That was limiting my teaching, so I started looking for science workshops.  I ended up in a graduate level science class at Penn State.  They gave us homework to do before we got there, including reading several articles in an astronomy magazine and answering some essay questions about them.  I read and read and read, and I still only understood about every third word.  And I'm an excellent reader, with an extensive vocabulary!  On one question, they asked me to explain what I thought the author was trying to convey in the article.  I started my answer with "I have no idea what he was talking about, but here is what I thought he said."  In class, it wasn't any better except that I got to ask lots of questions.  I remember one lunch break another student came up to me and said "I'm so glad you are asking all of those questions.  I didn't want to look stupid."  A backhanded compliment to say the least!  No matter how silly I might have looked, I came away with far more knowledge about space than I had before, and I used that back in my class.  As a result, I was able to give some new assignments that reached one of my students who had been completely unengaged in school.  Space fascinated him, and he was willing to do more reading and math when it was connected to science.  Not to mention, I now have complete sympathy for my lowest students.  I've been there! 

I don't know how encouraging all of that is.  It makes it look like a lot of work.  I suppose it is, but you have such a good time doing it, who cares!

The original article was more about how professional development needs to change.  I have some suggestions about that, too.  However, that will have to be another blog post.  My point here is that maybe some of it does, but often times it is the attitude of the teachers that make the difference.  If every teacher makes the effort to become engaged in every professional development they attend, the entire issue would be moot.  If one teacher makes the effort and shares that spark, it will travel.  Maybe not quickly, and maybe not to everyone, but it will travel.

1 comment:

  1. I love your perspective, Christie! What you say is definitely applicable to teachers' situations, but really in every field.


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