As We Begin Again: A Call to Teacher Leaders

In a world that can seem so indecent at times, it has never been more important for those with intelligence, confidence, determination, and integrity to step forward and to lead.

The same traits required of our leaders are required of our school teachers who are are asked to lead in the most outward way — with their words, hearts, and work on full display for their daily audience.

First of all, to every teacher who has remained in the classroom during these last ten years of constant change — I praise you. I’ve read the postings of many whom have “thrown in the towel,” and their reasons are valid: A low starting salary, the cost of child care, increased parental demands, lack of plan time, rigid high-stakes testing, inconsistent leadership, varying messages of “what’s important”— the list goes on and on. For every teacher who decides to put their time and energy into another cause, it’s a loss to our profession because teaching calls truly beautiful human beings to serve. Many have tried, and many are simply tired. I don’t blame one person who has decided to take another path. It’s our loss.

To those who say (as we teachers cringe), “What a great profession! You have your summers off!”, I try to explain teaching in the modern time to non-teachers as this: Imagine planning 2 three hour presentations a day. You must be prepared ahead of time, have differentiated materials for all levels of learners in your audience, various mediums to display and communicate your presentation, and keep your audience engaged. Do this for a day. Do it for 5 in a row. Then make it through 180 days. Don’t forget that after about 165 days your audience will be tested and their growth scores will be published for the outside world to rank and critique. Add on that you, if you’re lucky, have about 45 minutes to plan and grade work each day, 30 minutes for lunch, and all of your other “time” will be taken by parent meetings, phone calls, emails, and professional meetings. I can see why many people have said their goodbyes.

With all of this, I question myself why each year I decide to stay. Each year I feel the toll teaching takes on my mental and physical health. I review the time I’ve invested losing sleep over particular kids, creating engaging assignments, and putting TOO much time into those one or two students who need SO MUCH MORE. I often feel as though the few students who come in “good to go” don’t get enough attention. I balance this with my two most important students, my own young children at home.

I believe teachers who stay, and those that stay in love with the profession, have a few things in common. Its these few simple things things that will guide me into my fifteenth year of teaching starting next week:

  • The magic of a new year: Stepping away for a few weeks over the summer allows each of us to not only reconnect with our families, but to explore and improve ourselves and readjust our environment at a meaningful daily pace. It is in this space that we reflect on our past year. It is in this space that we remember how fortunate we are that our profession is relationship-based, that the essence of each young child at the elementary level is innocent, curious, and able to be molded. It’s not only fresh pencils and a clean classroom come August, but fresh minds and a chance help those minds understand and question the world around them.

  • The desire to problem solve: Teachers who are connected to the greater good of the work they do have a powerful opportunity to initiate conversations and bring awareness to the basic learning blocks at the elementary level. Before students learn to “play school” to just “get through” school, students are dynamic creative thinkers. 96% of kindergartners demonstrate divergent thinking skills, with that number significantly dwindling throughout elementary years. We can engage students with our questioning to first help them understand themselves — to then begin to understand and creatively solve the problems around them.

  • The desire to lead: Students need to be engaged with a teacher-leader who will “keep the quality up.” This slogan is direct and clear, but it hits more than teaching the required standards for learning. Our students deserve teacher-leaders who will set the standard for excellence in work and in personal character. Students can only learn about character when they have a leader modeling what it looks, sounds, and acts like. This is the strongest reminder of how important our work is. We have the power to influence and open minds, and must continue to use it to produce more good in the world and lead by our example. Our body language, our words, our encouragement, our smiles- they all matter.

Good luck to each of you as we begin again.


Kelly PascarellaComment