August 15, 2015

Now What?

I spent one afternoon at TMC listening to Peg Cagle and Levi Patrick talk about ways to grow as teachers without leaving the classroom. As I mentioned before, TMC brought to the forefront that I'm entering a new stage of my career, and I don't know what that means. Peg and Levi pointed out that there aren't pathways for growth in the US if you're a teacher. This isn't the case everywhere though. In China there are levels to achieve and (diverging) pathways to take as you grow as a teacher. They gave some examples - mentor, research, write a book, spend part of your schedule training pre-service teachers, other things I don't recall. At least in my district, there's no support to do anything beyond my regular teaching schedule. And the teacher leaders are the ones who sign up for committees - which I hate doing because they're typically run during school and remove me from my class. Because I don't want to stop teaching. I love teaching. But it no longer requires 100% of my energy and I want to do more.

So what are my options? I sign up each year to mentor new teachers, because sadly our department turnover is so high that we hire at least one math teacher every year. But this year we lucked out and hired only experienced teachers! They'll certainly need some support learning about our school, but they're much more established than teachers I've mentored in the past.

I never had any intention of writing a book, but that happened. I spoke at several conferences last year but working the conference circuit holds no appeal to me. I don't like to travel far just to spend a day somewhere. As appreciative as I am that so many people want to learn more, presenting to large groups isn't engaging in the way that teaching a class is. Finally, I hate missing school (if you're reading this you don't need me to tell you why).

I see Michael and Dylan digging into topics to explore them from multiple perspectives. This doesn't appeal to me, though I do enjoy scanning their writing to glean new information. I participated in a teacher cabinet advising the mayor last year, but I didn't find that we did anything impactful. So what's left?

This summer I've had the opportunity to do some curriculum work (Paid time! Not taking away from class time! Amazing!) with other teachers in my department. One day our leader from the charter school pointed out how wonderful it was to be doing this work with people who all know the content. That day I was working with our department head (another leadership position I don't really want because right now it's all bureaucracy, with only two teaching blocks) and another teacher who has taught five sections of Algebra 1 for each of the past three years. The same thing happened this past week, there were four of us in the room and with four years of Algebra 1 classes, I might have been the one with the least experience with the course. I also don't want to do curriculum work all the time, but these sessions made me appreciate the expertise of my co-workers. It's so much easier to work with people when I can say, "We need a lesson for the scientific notation part of this standard" and everyone 1) knows what's reasonable to ask our students, 2) has an idea from what they've done in the past, 3) can quickly assess other resources we discover, 4) can take my half sentence and turn it into a lovely handout doing exactly what I want (well, that may have more to do with us getting along that I didn't need to finish my sentence), 5) checks for common misconceptions and discusses how to address them. This is the benefit of having teachers stay in the classroom: we mapped out a month of classes (including a new Algebra support block), made student friendly handouts for all those lessons and chose assessment questions for each of the skills in the unit, in twelve hours. Two half days and a full day and we have photocopy ready plans for a month. There are some parts of class that aren't mapped out (we'll probably all do different openers and closers) and every pacing guide is meant to be broken, but what a huge accomplishment! (Right now all the files are in different places, including the school network, but once they're organized I promise to share.) These occasions make me see how important it is to have ways to keep these teachers in the district, in the classroom, with the students who deserve a teacher who knows what they're doing.

I still haven't answered the question of now what? Soon the answer will be "teach" because despite a decade of doing this, I still have a terrible time learning names. I never remember to make extra copies of the syllabus for Meet the Teacher Night. I always want to try something new, or have to try something new, because every group of students is different. There is one more thing that I want to consider, but I'm going to make it a separate post because it raises many important questions, beyond those of teacher professional paths. Stay tuned...

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