Thursday, May 8, 2014

No Teacher Left Behind


My first year as a department chair was eye opening. I was fresh out of graduate school where I studied secondary education, had two years experience, and was working at the school where I did student teaching. It was difficult learning how to lead teachers who, in many cases, had been educators longer than I've understood the concept of schooling. But none if this bothered me because I was lucky enough have the beginnings of an active professional learning network to support me through the challenges.

The most important lesson I learned that year came from a series of conversations with a very special teacher. His ability to work for kids was second to none. My interest in him came from the alarming number of failures on his previous year's role.

The first conversation we had was about the new scope and sequence. He asked me if we were getting new textbooks. I kindly replied, "Do you need one?"

With a smirk on his face, as if he was taken back at the fact that he needed to field a question like that from a department chair, he replied, "Well, how do we teach the new scope and sequence with the old book?" Not wanting to be rude, I offered some of my resources and lesson plans, which led us to the next conversation a few days later. This time it was about reading.

"I was told that reading is important," he said, "so I have the students read the chapter before class. But they aren't doing it." To that, I suggested that he teach them how to read.

He gave his usual contemplating facial expressions -- head cocked, cheeks high and wide -- as to avoid losing hope in the effort to change how he had taught for several years. After all, his success at preparing students for state exams was still filling him with validation. My empathy, however, continued to grow through his willingness to try another new thing. 

His understanding of reading and mine, however, were on separate tracts. I encouraged him to teach his students pen-in-hand, active reading, thinking, and writing strategies. After taking about a minute and a half to demonstrate how to search the textbook for a good chunk of content, he knew what he needed to do. Add a few ideas about the kinds of activities that can help learners deepen their knowledge, and he was ready to go at it from yet another direction. 

We didn't talk much more about it because it was closer to the end of the year and he ended up taking a job at another district in the area. 

To no surprise, he came back to visit the following year. I had a class at the time, but I walked him out and offered my support. He mentioned that his new district was focusing on writing, so I left him with a few suggestions on how to adapt strategies used in English classes to the needs of writing for social studies. 

I am sure he is doing well because he was the kind of teacher who wasn't afraid to ask the right question, even if it meant exposing that he had to change some of his ways to better support his students.

We all know a teacher like this one. They're my biggest heroes.