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Show Congress What Makes Teaching and Leading Schools Hard Work

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classroom substitute teacher hdornak pixabay.jpg

It is our understanding that on December 11, 2017 the Senate accepted a resolution proposed by Senator Kennedy, a Republican from Louisiana. It puts forward the assertion that members of Congress should substitute teach at least one day a year in a public school.

SENATE RESOLUTION 356--EXPRESSING THE SENSE OF THE SENATE THAT MEMBERS OF CONGRESS SHOULD SUBSTITUTE TEACH AT LEAST 1 DAY PER YEAR IN A PUBLIC SCHOOL TO GAIN FIRSTHAND KNOWLEDGE ON HOW TO ADDRESS THE PRE- VAILING CHALLENGES FACING EDUCATORS AND HOW TO RE- MOVE OBSTACLES TO LEARNING FOR STUDENTS.

Should this truly come to pass, school leaders and their faculty and staff have a phenomenal opportunity. This is not a time to put your "best" foot forward. It is a time to put your "real" foot forward. The real foot can hold both our best and our great challenges.

Let legislators experience the real scenario.  We can welcome them as 'important guests' before they come and also allow them to experience the feeling other substitute teachers may have. They can be strangers to the school and the students. They can wonder about the lesson and the technology...or lack of it.  Allow them to enter the building and wait as the secretary finishes calming down an upset parent who has arrived to complain about a bus driver, allow them go to the room where they will teach with the file of lessons and instructions for what to accomplish with students that day. Let them tackle the multiple subjects in an elementary school or the rotation of students and courses in high school. Let them walk the halls and interact with students. Provide them with the Code of Conduct. If you think this is harsh, you can add a quick early morning orientation. Check with legal to see if they can attend CSE or RTI meetings. Have a fire drill.  Here is why this is so important.

Put Your "Real" Foot Forward. Here is Why.

As educators, we are primed to show our best work. We are proud of our schools and districts and want people to see the results of our hard work in the successes and performance of our students. That is important and certainly the good image we project helps gather support from the community. But that can't be our sole purpose here. This is an opportunity to demonstrate the challenges that schools manage and overcome each and every day. Let them be a part of what is it that makes a school day go 'round? 

As they go through their day, don't attempt to prevent reality from demanding their responses. Allow them to feel the pace and demand their energy and thinking and actions keep up with the students and the school day. The rate of management issues landing in the front office and in the hands of the principal and teachers cannot be imagined. They can only be understood by living the day, even if only for a day.

An exit interview should be required. Invite faculty and staff. Congressal Substitute Teachers should be encouraged to share their experience and ask questions. Educators should be encouraged to speak openly, share their true-life experiences, frustrations, and successful practices.  This is not a time to complain. Rather, it is an opportunity to reveal the true challenges that exist for educators. We become skillful navigators of these challenges to prevent them from interfering with teaching and learning and student achievement.

It is remote that this resolution will come to pass but it causes us to think about a new way to interact with legislators locally. Schools leaders can think about using this thinking at the federal level and consider using it to provoke invitations locally or at least a new forum for presenting our reality. Maybe less travel to the "hallowed halls" and more of bringing them to ours.  Prepare for the visit far in advance with faculty and staff. Reach internal agreement about how the day will go, how the visiting substitute will be designed, what the schedule will include, and the protocol for the exit interview. 

The One Thing Educators All Know

Fundamentally, though we have often been critical of how little schools have changed over time, educators all know one thing: Learning is a messy process, of starts and stops, of aha moments resulting from drudgery and persistence. It rarely really happens along a straight path, it has turns and stops and spurts forward. And, it seldom happens the same way for every student. Yet, in a system, we must try to find the place where greatest common ground exists and maneuver form there to include everyone. And, as we write this, we wonder why legislators don't understand this better than anyone else. Learning and passing legislation have some things in common after all.

Ann and Jill are authors of The STEM Shift: A Guide for School Leaders. They can be reached at [email protected] 

Photo by hdornak courtesy of Pixabay

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