What do teachers need?

The same things they give their students every day!

What if we gave teachers what they need

I’m so glad that teachers in Oklahoma, West Virginia, and other states are advancing the conversation on what teachers need.  We risk the future of our country when we don’t pay teachers a livable middle class wage and support them with the supplies they need in the classrooms.  But I want to talk about another set of things that we should give teachers. Teachers need the same things they provide their students, because they are also learners.

Teaching, after all, is a complex skill that takes years to acquire.  I don’t know anyone who believes that an aspiring teacher leaves a teacher education program with everything they need to know.  So a lot of teacher learning takes place on the job. But while our schools are set up to support student learning, they often aren’t set up to facilitate teacher learning.

So indulge me for a few minutes in imagining what it would be like if we gave teachers what they give their students.  And if you think I’m being overly optimistic, here’s some John Lennon to listen to.

Time to process  

One of the things that teachers eventually learn is a sense of timing.  When to push ahead and when to back off so that students can think and process.  The problem is teachers rarely have the time to themselves process and reflect on what’s going on in their classrooms.  Prep periods are filled with returning emails, filing paperwork, and frantically prepping. Professional development days are rare, and they usually begin with a keynote to introduce new ideas, as if teachers were empty vessels needing to be filled.  Most teachers I know are constantly frustrated that they’re not teaching as well as they would like to. Let’s imagine for a moment what we could accomplish if we gave them the time necessary to do that.

A clear sense of what they’re being evaluated on

Students ask it all the time: “What’s on the test?”  Being evaluated is a scary proposition and no one likes the feeling that they’re going to be tricked or asked about something they weren’t expecting.

Teachers everywhere calm these fears by helping students understand what they need to do. In my class, all assignment sheets for papers and large projects come with “Markers of Success.” You know if you have those elements, you’ve reached success.

Let’s imagine for a minute giving teachers the same thing.  It would end the often whispered conversations ”do you know what she’s looking for?” and “what does he like to see?”  And I’m sure administrators would find that writing a rubric is not an easy task. Deciding what good teaching looks like and what can be expected of a teacher is difficult.  But I want to imagine a world where the people that evaluate teaching have thought about these issues, can communicate their ideas succinctly, and are willing to stand behind their beliefs.

Guided Practice

Of course it follows that if teachers don’t even know what they’re being evaluated on, they certainly haven’t had a chance to repeatedly practice.  And yet this is something else we routinely offer our students because we know it’s the way learning occurs.

If you’re evaluating students on writing a strong thesis, you’ve given them lots of practice doing just that.  Together as a class, in small groups, and in pairs. Looking at good mentor texts and fixing problematic examples.  Lots of opportunities for feedback.

And yet guided, non-evaluative practice with feedback for teachers is hard to even imagine.  I know about Japanese lesson study and video clubs from taking grad classes, not from personal experience.  Let’s imagine what it would look like, and maybe having a clearer mental image will bring us a tiny step closer to achieving it.


Part of why it’s so hard to imagine guided practice with feedback for teachers is who’s doing it? A mentor who has a full class load of their own? One instructional coach for the whole building (if you’re lucky)?  If it’s important for teachers to learn on the job, shouldn’t there be someone who’s available to help them do that?

The freedom to rest when ill

Kid doesn’t feel well, they get sent home with instructions to look on the class website for make-up work when they feel up to it.  Makes sense.

Unfortunately, teacher doesn’t feel well is a very different story.  Which is why we get blog posts like this one and memes like this one:

teachers need sick days
An acceptance of where they’re at now

It’s become cliche to say that “fail” stands for “first attempt in learning.”  Teachers are urged to provide a safe environment where a growth mindset is valued and failure is encouraged.   Let’s imagine administrators who also provide this for teachers.

Choice to pursue interests

Genius hour.  20 percent time.  Call it what you like, choice in learning is a hot topic right now.  I would love to see teachers given the same trust we give fourth graders to pursue topics of interest.

Please imagine this world with me.  And one where teachers can support their families without a second job.

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