I’ve been asked, “Hw did you survive 5o years of teaching under the conditions teachers experience?”
My answer is simple, “I listened every new next great idea in teaching demanded by administrators. I evaluated it considering the unique needs of each of my students, and if it was no aligned with that, I would nod and close my door. It often took 3-4 years before they discovered this new idea was not effective and would be replaced with yet another ‘great idea.’
If teachers stay the course and lasted longer than 10 years, they will begin to see the next new ideas are in actuality recycled ideas that didn’t work the first time. Much is lost with the recycling of administrators.
One of the reasons I was able to continue in the career was due to a huge leap of faith I took in the 1980’s. I saw an unhealthy focus placed on test results. When the media began reporting on how the schools were failing based on those test scores, schools began to pressure teachers to get better test scores. The scores did not reflect the performance of many of my students who experience test anxiety. We were being told to move through the curriculum in order to expose children to more information, and this was not in the best interest of students who needed more time with different concepts. Administrators wanted teachers to differentiate instruction, but didn’t provide needed time and resources to do so. Administrators brought parents into the classroom with the hopes of changing the perception of the schools without discussing the pros and cons of this decision with the teachers. The negative impact resulted in more concern about the quality of teaching. It also prompted parents to get tutoring for their children when it wasn’t necessary. The challenge was that parents weren’t equipped to evaluate what was appropriate perforamnce for each student. Some parents would compare their children’s work to other’s without understanding the wide degree of abilities in one classroom. In some cases, paretns would share their observation about other students work with their parents creating competition amongst parents about their children’s progress.
So, I decided the type of teaching being asked of me wasn’t something I could live with. I couldn’t continue under the demands that did not align with my core values and would not support the type of teaching I knew was best for students.
I awoke every morning with conflicted feelings. I had a passion for the children I taught and loved the opportunity to empower them to become independent self-advocates. That excited me, but then reality hit. I was faced with dealing with administrative decisions that were not aligned with what I felt were in the best interest of the children. I had to comply or I would lose my job. Each day I dealt with a terrible inner conflict. Couple that with the daily paperwork that took more time than was available and which took time away from meeting my students unique needs, it made teaching stressful and not rewarding.
I know teachers are dealing with even more obstacles, are expected to be super human, and are the recipients of constant criticism.
I took the leap of faith and left public education. Private schools were often frowned upon by my colleagues. but I was fortunate to find a private school that was aligned with my core values. I was able to develop the third grade program that gained traction and proved to be just what students needed to independently manage their own educational needs. Parents embraced my no-parent-help approach once they saw the confidence the students quickly developed. I was living my dream, and experiencing the joy in teaching again. I could make a difference and empower the children with the skills that would empower them to be self-reliant self-advocates who also effectively managed their materials and time. I never thought I would find myself in a private school. I always believed public was the best option for everyone, until I was given the opportunity to use my intuition about what was best for my students instead of being dictated as to what I could use.
I was excited everyday to see what would evolve in my classroom. The children were the drivers of instruction, as they asked questions about what they didn’t understand. We had time to explore ideas and have deep discussions that my alumni still recall. Often students would take over the class and share what they had discovered through their own reading that enhanced our knowledge. I recall one day when two boys carried on an interesting diaglogue about the insects of the rainforest. They had extensive knowledge and the discussion between the two of them was more interesting than a National Geographic movie. They had every child engaged.
I was living my dream. until I experienced the abrupt change brought on by COVID. Unlike other teachers, I loved what this change allowed me to do with my students. We learned together how to survive change by using innovative thinking. Most of the stress was related to being asked to do more than was humanly possible by the directors. but in the classroom, with my students, I again was living my dream. My children were facing problems and using their creativity and the broader knowledge of technology than I had to come up with ways to come up with solutions that we as a class could live with. I saw how the program that focused on creative problem solving was just what was needed to prepare my students with the skills they would need for a world that was changing exponentially faster everyday. Again. I took the leap of faith and retired, to pursue more opportunities to share the strategies with teachers and parents. COVID shut down most seminars, so I focused on writing a few books. but I was missing my work with students. At a time when I needed it most, my niece reached out to me to help her develop a homeschooling curriculum for her children. I didn’t want her to just hand the children workbooks, so I volunteered to teach her how to use them so here children could learn skills that would allow them to become independent learners. After my first lesson, I realized that teaching her children on zoom would fill a need for me, help her, and support the children all at one time.
In the three years I have been meeting with her children 4 days a week, I have come to see the incredible benefits of homeschooling. I once worried about the children who missed the interactions possible in a classroom. Not all classrooms are managed in a way that allows extra time for students with math anxiety or who struggle with writing. Many don’t know how to keep students engaged when everything comes easily to them.
I was surprised how much more the students were able to achieve than my students in the conventional classroom. The students are held more accountable and are less likely to slip under the radar. Every error is a learning opportunity to learn how to do something differently. It also allowed the children to move at a pace in math that stimulated them. My fourth grader sees math in his head and has enjoyed being challenged daily, while his sister is more artist and because she is learning at a pace conducive to her needs her math anxiety is whittling away. She learned strategies and methods that helped her understand what was once very complex concepts. it’s not uncommon for her to say, “This is easy peasy lemon squeezy.”
I am seeing the benefits of homeschooling I was not aware of in the past. It is not for everyone, but it is a wonderful alternative for some. I am happy to help both the in classroom teacher and the homeschooling parent with strategies that will help your students grow into independent learners equipped with a backpack of strategies that will serve them for a lifetime.