Come On, Teachers: Let’s Own Our Development
Steven Sanders is a 2014 Fishman Prize winner and a member of the TNTP Educator Editorial Board.
As a seventh-year teacher, I’m at a point in my career where improvement comes in tiny increments. I’m through the rapid development that comes in those first few years in the classroom, and now I’m always scrambling to see how I can get better. No matter how long I’ve been doing this, I’ll never say I’ve “mastered” my craft, because teaching is incredibly challenging and every class of students is different.
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Back in August, I read The Mirage, TNTP’s new report on teacher development. At times, I was shocked and amazed while reading it. I was shocked by the simple fact that districts spend so much on professional development with so little in return in terms of teacher improvement. And I was amazed that as many as 10 people or central departments can play a role in a single teacher’s development.
What really caught my attention, though, was the high number of teachers who rated their instruction a 4 or 5 (out of 5). Even among teachers with low evaluation ratings—or those whose observation scores were actually declining over time—many said their practice had improved “some” or “tremendously.”
Let’s get real here: Even individuals who are great in their field of expertise can acknowledge that they have work to do. Take professional boxer Oscar De La Hoya, for example. His amateur career alone included 234 wins with only six losses. And yet he was quoted as saying, “There is always space for improvement, no matter how long you’ve been in the business.”
It’s clear that the professional development schools and districts are providing teachers isn’t getting the results we need. That’s a problem. But as educators, let’s own this. As a teacher, I have very little opportunity to administer professional development or make decisions about the professional development that is offered to me. What I can do, however, is take a good look at my results and carefully mine them for areas in which I can improve. This school year, for example, I have prepared to teach a totally different method to my freshmen students. Why? Because after taking a realistic look at the last school year, I think it’s time to shake things up. I can do better.
I challenge any teacher who reads The Mirage to do exactly that. Let’s figure out where our weaknesses are and go after them ourselves. Teaching is not a profession in which we can be lax from year to year. Are our lessons getting stale? Are we used to teaching the same curriculum? Or using the same materials? We need to open our doors to trusted colleagues who can observe us, offer feedback, and push our development.
The Mirage highlights that teachers believe one of the best ways to grow their practice is through informal collaboration. Informal collaboration doesn’t need to wait for our district leaders to make changes to their professional development systems, and it doesn’t have anything to do with what others—often those outside the classroom—think will help us. Teachers are some of the smartest people in the world. If anyone is going to figure out how to make us better, we will. But as a profession, we have to commit to that challenge first.
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