Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Growing Great Teachers

Many of us are fortunate to get to host preservice teachers in our classrooms. In the last couple of years, many of them expressed to me a fear of entering the classroom because they know that the statistics show that many of them will not last for 5 years. Let's be honest. Teaching is hard. Very hard. It requires us to analyze and diagnose 30+ students simultaneously every hour every day. I'd like to see a doctor even attempt that.

Teaching is both a science and an art. It requires grit and passion....and a lot of flexibility. So it makes me wonder, for those of us who have been in the classroom and weathered the storms, how do we persevere? What have we figured out as professionals that we can pass on to the next generation of teachers so that they can not only take root, but flourish as an educator?

Develop a PLN. Unfortunately, teaching can be isolating. In many schools, teachers go to their perspective classrooms and shut the door. Some of our preservice teachers, will be in those schools where they are all alone with no one to throw them a life preserver when they are sinking. Many of us have been in that situation. However, knowing that you have a mentor, coach, or listening ear can make a world of difference.

I often get the question from interns, "how do you know so much?" I can attribute a large measure of what I know to the brilliant educators that I have connected with on social media. Although many of our interns use social media, they are unaware of how to connect with likeminded educators who can provide them with support, resources, answers, and encouragement. We need to take the time to help them learn how to build their PLN through tools such as Twitter or Facebook. They need to see how we build powerful relationships with educators who we can learn from and who we can share our experiences with. These carefully curated relationships don't just happen. They take time and guidance. By taking preservice teachers under our wing, we can guide them to a path where they will not be isolated in their classrooms.

Give them a vision of professionalism. So many preservice teachers have a limited view of what it means to be a professional educator. They lack a vision of where one can go as a professional. By giving them the opportunity to attend conferences, Edcamps, Twitter chats, workshops, and other professional events, interns begin to see that teachers are always learning, growing and sharing.

Many of them enter classrooms not knowing about the educational organizations that they can join or certifications that they can earn that will sharpen their teaching practice and propel them into powerful teacher leaders. Preservice teachers often do not have a vision of where they are headed as a professional in the next five years. We need to be that person who taps them on the shoulder and encourages them to become active in professional organizations to grow their practice. After they've been in the classroom for three years, as veteran teachers, we need to encourage them to pursue National Board Certification so that we can start growing great teachers early in their career. Imagine where early career teachers would be if they began their journey toward accomplished teaching early in their career.

Involve them early. Many of us have discovered worthwhile professional endeavors by accident. These are activities that not only keep us informed but also help us to develop relationships with policy makers. One thing that we can easily do is invite preservice/early career teachers to join us in educational functions beyond our schools. Invite them to join you when you go speak with your legislators. Encourage them to attend the town hall meetings or district forums where there are conversations about practices that can impact the teaching and learning in the classroom. When there is a meet and greet for an organization, encourage preservice teachers to join you and actively participate in the conversations. Our profession needs teachers who are articulate and can advocate for our students. This provides preservice/early career teachers the experience to be comfortable in these situations because students need the next generation of teachers to step into these roles. Furthermore, these experiences help them see the impact of what they are doing inside the classroom upon the community outside their classroom walls.

We want to elevate our profession. We want to attract and keep the brightest minds. That cannot happen if we keep losing our teachers. Let's reach out, be a beacon of light and start growing great teachers even before they enter our profession.

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