Wednesday, 16 October 2013
How Do We Know We Are Doing a Good Job?
At the start of this school year, I had a rude awakening. After carefully working with my colleagues to work out the division of our classes, I found some students who were not happy with their placements, which is not that unusual. One student in particular stands out for me. He was in my class the previous year and had seemed to have had a wonderful time learning in our classroom. He provided positive feedback to me at the end of the year. I had my students write anonymous report cards on myself and my job-share partner at the end of the year and they were very positive. However, at the start of this year, that one student had a conversation with my job-share partner where he reluctantly shared that his parents did not want him in our class because they did not think we were good teachers. Gasp! Break my heart! We work so hard at trying to be good teachers that this caused me to rack my brains to find what it could be that my job share partner and I needed to do better. After a while, I tried to brush it off by saying to myself that I can't please everyone, but it still bothered me.
Eventually, I understood that our classroom is unconventional in many ways and that it causes some parents to be uncomfortable because they don't see learning happening in a traditional way. Last year, my teaching was transformed by my own learning and professional development and I tried many new things in my classroom. But now, I started to ask myself: Do I need to use the textbook more? Maybe we should do more worksheets. Perhaps I need to go back to the weekly spelling list so that some parents feel like we are actually teaching. But, would that weekly spelling list have been teaching? That led me to ask: If we compare out education system to a business model, who are our customers? Is it the students? Is it the parents? Or a combination of the two? Who should I be trying to please? Am I supposed to be pleasing someone? Yes, my students need to be happy in order to learn but what about the parents? I want them to feel like their children are getting a good education and I need to communicate what I am doing and why I am doing it, but what if we disagree? If you have answers to any of these questions, I would love to hear from you.
After much soul searching, I came to a place of peace. I happened to be discussing why that student didn't want to be in my class and what I was doing wrong with a teacher friend in a restaurant. While I was having this discussion, the waitress came to take our order and recognized me as her 5th grade teacher. She then starts to animatedly discuss all of the things she remembered in our classroom. How we had a Mystery Festival for Science, an Author's Evening to share our writing, and how we discussed the tragedy of 9/11 when it occurred and how that conversation stayed with her. She showed me the power of teaching and how it is remembered far into the future. It was exactly the validation I needed to know that I can continue to teach in a way that I am passionate about because the students remember it and learn from it.
So, how do you know that you are doing a good job?