Summer and winter break are the main times I reflect and set goals for the return to the classroom. Here are my top five for 2014:
When I'm poring over a long list of standards in tiny print, or preparing for a high-stakes standardized test that relies on old-school multiple choice questions, it's easy to forget what matters. Reflecting for a few minutes on the abilities that have been the most critical to my own life and career--creativity, compassion, thinking through complex problems--helps keep me focused on what I need to teach.
2. Encourage more men to go into teaching.
Census data and surveys show that while women keep shattering the glass ceiling in traditionally male professions (CEO's, investment bankers), men have failed to do the same in traditionally female jobs like nursing, becoming a stay-at-home dad, and teaching--especially in pre-K and the lower grades. There are plenty of reasons why male teachers have a positive effect on the schools where we teach: providing a positive male role-model, modeling respectful collaboration and friendship with women, and showing boys that being gentle and nurturing are masculine traits, too. For a thoughtful blog by the most remarkable male pre-K teacher I know, check out John Holland's The Learning Studio.
3. Refrain from using war metaphors to describe teaching.
The most common metaphors I have heard used by teachers to describe teaching are "on the front lines" and "in the trenches." Example: "Those goons at the Department of Ed ought to come down to my school and see what it's like in the trenches. We're the ones on the front lines!" I don't mean to downplay the tremendous difficulty of our work, especially in an era of top-down policies and fixation on standardized test skills. Teachers in inner-city neighborhoods like the school where I began my career, P.S. 192 in West Harlem, perform heroically despite shameful inequities. But war metaphors are insulting to both the students we teach and to the men and women in uniform who actually are on the front lines. The honor and joy involved in teaching our students is tremendous, even under adverse conditions. Comparisons to soldiers in World War I assaulted by artillery shells and mustard gas fail to capture the delight and meaning at the heart of our profession.
*Photo taken by Kevin Briggs, Arkansas Department of Education
Schools are the most social and interconnected of worlds, yet teachers are often isolated. Our struggles and triumphs shouldn't be solitary. The best week of professional development I have experienced didn't involve a single binder or consultant. Instead, I observed an outstanding 4th grade teacher down the hall during her math block, had a 2nd grade teacher watch the way I teach Writer's Workshop, asked our brilliant math coach to observe me and give me feedback, and sat down with her later to go over student work and plan how to get better at teaching math.
5. Laugh a lot with my students.
Rigor and joy can co-exist. The kids in my class need to work hard and learn to struggle through difficult material, but they also need to laugh, play, and delight in the world. "Laugh time" is just as important as silent "think time." I need to build in moments of hilarity like reading aloud the whizzpopper scene in Roald Dahl's The B.F.G. We all went into teaching because we love working with kids. Laughter is at the heart of that work.
I'd love to hear your own teaching resolutions. What are your goals, projects, and promises to your students for 2014?