In the middle of August each year, Washington, D.C.’s public school teachers head back to school. During the pre-service week before our students arrive, we go all out to set the stage for a great school year. Reading over the curriculum; contacting parents to arrange home visits; observing new faces; listening to administration, central office workers and colleagues state what their expectations are from us and why those expectations are important…
All the while, I am thinking about the long list of things I need to do in preparation for my students:
- I want my students to feel safe and loved. So I work to be kind.
- I want my students to take ownership in our classroom and in their education. So I provide choices for my students, and I offer them opportunities to self-reflect.
- I want my students’ cultural backgrounds to be represented in our learning environment. So I respect and celebrate differences.
- I want my students to feel supported. So I cultivate a classroom community that takes into account the social and emotional needs of my students.
I do all of this not just because I am expected to, but also because I know it’s the right thing to do. It’s just that simple.
You’d think by now I’d be used to all of this. And yet, each year, I find myself feeling more overwhelmed and exhausted than the year before.
I think a lot of it comes down to the message we as teachers receive that we are not experts in our field. When a standardized test score holds more sway than my personalized observations of a student’s progress; when individuals trained in areas outside of education are more highly prized as teachers than those of us who studied education and have honed our craft for years; when politicians and school leaders set policy without ever considering teachers’ voices; when we are given the message, time and time again, that we are not experts in our field, we begin to doubt ourselves.
So, how can we better prepare our teachers to deal with the changing demands in education? What can we do to help teachers like me feel valued in schools? As I tell my students, small, simple steps can reap great rewards:
- Be kind — assume the best of me, and of all teachers. I want to help solve the problem, not place blame.
- Provide choices for teachers — decision-making leads to empowerment, and empowerment increases productivity.
- Offer us opportunities to self-reflect — that’s where the magic happens! Self-reflection leads to a natural process of evaluation.
- Respect and celebrate differences — I cannot deliver the lesson the same way you do. Nor should I. We each have our own special gift.
- And remember, teachers and school staff have social and emotional needs too.Support us, so we can keep on supporting our students without becoming more and more exhausted and overwhelmed.
Policymakers, administrators, principals: Do all of this not just because it will make our schools better, but also because it’s the right thing to do. It’s just that simple.
Rahshita Lowe-Watson teaches kindergarten at Barnard Elementary School in Washington, D.C.
This blog post is re-published with permission from AFT Voices. Read the original post. To learn more about AFT's Schoolhouse Voices from PreK-12 public educators, visit: https://aftvoices.org/school-house-voices/home. Follow on Twitter @rweingarten or on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/AFTunion.