I am sure most us remember hearing stories from our grandparents or great-grandparents about the one-room school house, where students sat in wooden desks, the teacher was almost always female, and a shiny red apple stayed on the teacher’s desk. Students of varying ages sat and watched as the teacher reviewed how to write cursive letters, or they worked on perfecting their penmanship skills. Students usually were taught to be respectful and quiet, and to mind their manners. I certainly did not grow up in this era, but I do remember getting in trouble if I asked my neighbor to help me solve a problem because that was considered cheating, at least in my experience. Gone are the days of reading, writing and arithmetic. You may ask yourself, “What?! Students aren’t learning the most fundamental subjects needed to be a functioning citizen?” Well, that is not quite the case.
We have come a long way since those days. With a vast educational reform movement underway, we are no longer expecting the typical bell-shaped curve, where the average student will rank at the top of the curve, with lower-performing students on the left-hand side (indicating possible learning disabilities) and higher-performing students on the right-hand side (indicating possible high potential). There are three big concepts behind this: rigor, relevance, and relationships.
During my teacher preparation program, I first heard the statistic from the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future that half of all new teachers leave the profession within their first five years. My professor followed up that sobering piece of data with, “Teaching is a profession that eats its young.” Five years later, I’m officially part of that statistic. After four years as a high school English teacher, I left to join The BERC Group. It was a good move for me to come here. Of all the professional development I had during my teaching career (and in my district, we had a lot of PD!), my STAR training stands out as the piece that impacted my instruction the most. As a teacher, nothing helped me more than going into a colleague’s classroom for half an hour. I never failed to glean something from these observations that would later enhance my own practice. I admired the work The BERC Group was doing around Powerful Teaching and Learning, and I wanted to be a part of it.
But I was not prepared for the twin sensations of guilt and relief that overwhelmed me when I left teaching. Guilt because I’d given in. I’d become part of the 50% my professors warned me about. And relief because, during those four years of teaching, my life had turned into a juggling act. I had dozens of balls that needed to stay in the air. Lessons to plan. Students to tutor. Papers to grade. Phone calls to make. Paperwork to finish. Grades to enter. All of these tasks were absolutely necessary – and all of them took place outside of the school day. I was much better at keeping these balls in the air after four years of practice, but they still crashed around my feet more often than I would like to admit. When I left behind my classroom, I also left the constant dread of waiting for that crash to happen. A year later, and I am still processing both of these emotions.
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