Thursday, January 13, 2011

Why I don't give up

Several well-meaning friends have asked me why I don't just give up. Why don't I find a job tutoring and stick with that? Or volunteer, or do something completely different?

First of all, I started all this because I wanted a meaningful way to be active, and I felt that I could help fill up a tiny gap in the need for math and science teachers. I love math, and thought that I could extend my love to inspire students to enjoy it as well.

Then there is the resources aspect to not giving up. I've invested a lot of money, time, effort, interest and even passion - in my graduate school education, as well as numerous other courses, seminars and conventions. I've bought - and read - almost every book the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics offers on Reasoning and Sense-making and other topics I deemed useful for the subjects I've been teaching.

I read great blogs about teaching, not least Coach G's Teaching Tips on the Education Week Teacher website. There I just found another blog posting that inspired me: How Teachers Can Build Emotional Resilience by Elena Aguilar. She lists a number of ways that teachers become emotionally resilient:
  1. Have personal values that guide their decision-making. They often feel they were "called" to this profession and a commitment to social justice keeps them in the classroom.
  2. Place a high value on professional development and actively seek it out.
  3. Mentor others.
  4. Take charge and solve problems.
  5. Stay focused on children and their learning.
  6. Do whatever it takes to help children be successful.
  7. Have friends and colleagues who support their work emotionally and intellectually.
  8. Are not wedded to one best way of teaching and are interested in exploring new ideas.
  9. Know when to get involved and when to let go.
I think I do all of these things (except maybe realizing when to let go!) I am particularly flexible about #8, ready and willing to try many different methods (except "drill and kill," which one adviser insisted was the only way to get kids to learn.) Furthermore, Ms. Aguilar says, principals can help their teachers become emotionally resilient.
Trust has been called "the connective tissue that holds improving schools together." Organizational consultant Margaret Wheatley has written beautifully on the impact that having meaningful conversations and listening to each other can have in changing environments. Principals can ensure that these conversations happen. We can’t support each other intellectually (or create Professional Learning Communities) if we don’t trust each other.
At my previous position, we math teachers had no preparation period, and no common time where we could get together to help each other (different lunch breaks.) And the principal was quick to fire rather than support teachers. (The teacher before me managed to find another job and quit before the principal dismissed her - he had already announced her position as open. He also let most of last year's math teachers go since school scores on the state math tests were ridiculously low - more likely because the school expected most learning to happen through projects, where math was ancillary to other projects, than because of the teachers' competence.)

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