I’ve said it before; I’ve never taught a perfect lesson. After each one I step back and look to see what I can do to make it better. My lesson plans are full of notes. Things that don’t work get tossed. Things get tweaked. Resources get added. Information is growing too quickly to do the same thing over and over.
When I was working toward National Board Certification, I was a little hesitant to videotape my class, and even more hesitant to sit and watch myself in action. However, once I started watching, I saw things I did really well and things I needed to work on. It led me to tap the resources all around me; my colleagues. I even shared the videos with the class, using them as teaching tools to point out the group dynamics I wanted to foster and those that undermined learning.
I recently reread Drive by Daniel Pink, and the thing that jumped out at me this time was about how mastery is an asymptote (p. 124-125). Basically, mastery is really out of reach, but when you strive for mastery you are constantly getting closer, but never quite reaching it. “In the end, mastery attracts precisely because mastery eludes.”
I am not afraid to say I am a work in progress. 24 years into this profession, and I’m not perfect, but I keep getting better. I evaluate and critique myself all the time, and I seek out those who can help me. I remember my first year when a special ed. teacher saw me struggling with classroom management and reached out to say, “It looks like you could use some help. Do you want to talk about it?” I have stood in the back of kindergarten classrooms to watch some amazing ladies in action; they taught me patience and to appreciate my fifth graders. I have spent long hours collaborating with some amazing teaching partners, bouncing around ideas to create great lessons. I have popped into a third grade room to watch amazing classroom management that allowed for multiple levels of learning to go on all the time. Who cared that she had taught ten years less than me. There were things there I could learn.
How often I have asked, “May I borrow that?” “Do you know where I might find?” “Can you help me find a book, a website, a resource?” “Can we work together?
I want to know what works and what doesn’t. Like my students, I thrive on feedback. So evaluate me, please. But let’s lay down a few ground rules.
- I teach children, not targets or standards, so please don’t walk into my classroom expecting to see me teaching a specific skill at an exact moment in time. That’s not how it works here.
- Don’t assume you know my kids as well as I do. That little boy with his back to me? Yeah, I know he’s off-task, but six months ago he would’ve thrown a desk when he was angry. Now he just turns his back. If I leave him alone, he’ll calm down and eventually apologize. If I say something to him now he’ll explode. Ask me about it later, but right now, trust that I know my kids.
- If you want to know how far I’ve taken my students, then look at where they were when they came in my room and where they are when they leave. I do good work, but I can’t bring a child who is three years behind up to grade level in one year. If I could, believe me I would.
- Understand that social and emotional growth can’t be measured on a test, but they are measured in real life. When we meet, let’s talk about how my kids have progressed in these areas as well.
- Join in. Ask questions. Talk to my kids. You’ll learn a lot more by being part of the learning than you will sitting in judgment in the back of the room.
- Talk to me. You bring a different perspective to my room. Ask questions, offer suggestions, but don’t forget to point out my strengths.
- Remember that every year is different. What was an area of strength last year may be an area of struggle this year. Don’t assume it’s because I’ve slacked off or done something wrong. Make me feel safe enough to ask for support.
- Build a climate of collaboration and trust. My students don’t learn in isolation, and neither do I.
- By all means, hold me accountable for what I do within the classroom.
Evaluate me, please. Just remember my worth shouldn’t be determined by some arbitrary value added model based on subpar standardized tests. It should come from what I do with the students I have each year, from my professional growth, and from formative, ongoing conversations.