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The Calling – What’s My Job and Can I do It?

I have read a lot about teaching and have probably doubled that long list since last August when I first reflected on the articles The Inner Game of Teaching (Marzano and Marzano 2010) and What’s My Job (Wiggins 2010).  The inner job is an easier article to accept at this date as I have seen some wonderful examples of reframing during my internship.  Being able to look at a situation that could be seen as negative and thinking of it in a positive way is beneficial in the classroom as one recent example reminded me.  A student arrived in the art class who did not want to be in it, had not signed up for it but was forced into the class because of schedule conflicts.  This student made a point of doing nothing in class until personally requested to do so several times each class period by the teacher (me).  When pressed to work in class, he would often simply say he was done and put his head down or scribble all over his artwork and turn it in, giving himself a failing grade on his rubric.  Each day this student introduced me to a new but familiar presenting event.  I was solo teaching and spoke with my mentor teacher about it.  I tried all kinds of reframing, which seemed to work for a day or a class period and then another strategy had to be found.  I looked deeply at the three questions the Marzanos suggested I ask myself for practicing control over my interpretations (Marzano and Marzano 2010).

  • How am I interpreting this event?
  • Does this interpretation help serve an important goal or an important principle in my life?
  • If not, what is a more useful interpretation?

Those questions are very useful.  Nothing works all the time but it is important as a teacher to really think about why we do what we do in class.  I have often compared teaching to parenting and in this aspect, the inner, reflective aspect, it is the same.  When one thing doesn’t work, we consider why.  How am I looking at this student?  Do I resent his wasting valuable class time that other students who remained on the waiting list for this class would fully use?  Do I care about this particular students’ education as a whole or only in my class?  Am I frustrated in my authority as a teacher?  Do I take this one student’s behavior personally as an affront to the value of the arts?  Am I egotistically trying to prove my worth as a teacher?  These are hard questions to ask oneself but important.  A teacher is always reviewing and reconsidering her planning, teaching, and assessing.

This inner life–this reflective, questioning teacher is also the one who is frustrated by the fact that ALL students may not be able or willing to put forth the effort needed to be successful in the classroom.  As I reread ‘What’s My Job?’ (Wiggins 2010), my mind kept going back to something the Finnish education expert Pasi Sahlberg said when he spoke at the University of Washington last autumn.  After he spoke, a Seattle area educator wondered aloud how does an administrator KNOW that a teacher is doing a good job teaching when Finland does not use student test scores to check the teacher’s results?  Mr. Sahlberg replied that in Finland, teachers are highly-trained professionals and are treated as such.  He told the questioner that administrators in Finland talk to their teachers rather than testing them.

Among other things the Finns do is allow teachers enough time for planning (so that they are not obligated to work at home as most of our public school teachers must do).  Teachers have smaller classes so they can give more than seventy-five seconds of class period time to individual students.  I fully understand that in the US, we do not have the focus or the desire to improve our educational system through changes to the system when it seems so much easier to put the onus onto the teachers.  Teachers are required to make accommodations, adjustments, and modifications for individuals but only those few who either desperately need it and who the state assists, or whose parents understand how to navigate our complex system.  Students with IEPs, 504s, and whatever other states call their individual plans.  Mr. Wiggins wrote “We tend to define teaching by measuring all the things a teacher is supposed to do rather than what the teacher is supposed to accomplish.”(Wiggins 2010, p. 9).  His idea is that teachers should be held to industry standards just as salesmen or business executives are.  To my mind, teaching is not salesmanship (even though we use some of the same techniques to sell our students on the ideas we are teaching them).  It is not a business management position where if your employees do not perform, you should be fired.  This is the very attitude that makes the reflective, inner game of teaching one of frustration and fear.  Teachers who are not trained properly should get proper training, not get fired.  Teachers who have students who refuse to work in class or cannot accomplish to the level of other students should get support for those students, not a reprimand for being unable to do what is not humanly possible. Mr. Sahlberg wrote,

   Education in Finland gives high priority to personalized learning and creative teaching as important components of schooling.  Therefore students’ progress in school is primarily judged against their respective characteristics and abilities, rather than reliance on   uniform standards and statistical indicators. (Sahlberg 2010, p.89)

A teacher is someone who has gone through years of expensive colleges, an often unpaid internship with long hours, and test after test just to be able to learn the art of teaching.  It is an art.  It is also a calling, as has been mentioned in several Seattle Pacific University classes and by Mr. Pasi Sahlberg during his talk at the University of Washington.  If teachers were salesmen or executives, they would also be getting bonuses and wages of the business professional instead of one-tenth that amount.

Does a great teacher also need to be, as quoted on the back cover of the book Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire (Esquith 2007) “a genius and a saint”?  I am neither but I still want to be a great teacher.  The author Rafe Esquith has been teaching with total support from his wife, who helps him get things done for his students, a twelve-hour school day—every school day—and summer vacations spent with students.  Is this the only way to be a great teacher?  Can we teachers get more guidance and support and less of the blame for an imperfect public school system that needs to change a great deal more than it’s educators?

For some teachers the inner game of teaching becomes one of questioning more than their ever-changing job definition.  Teachers reflect on what they do and wonder how long they will be able to manage to do what they feel called to do without having the requirements of the profession overwhelm them.  I plan to ask for the support I need to become a great teacher and I hope my classmates will be doing the same and eventually create a more effective education system.  I plan to do this job of classroom teaching exceptionally well and, not being a genius or a saint, I will need some help.

Esquith, R. (2007) “Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire” New, York, NY. Penguin Books

Marzano , R.J., & Marzano, J.S. (2010). “The Inner Game of Teaching” in Marzano, R. J. (Ed.) On excellence in teaching (pp.345-367). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Wiggins, G. (2010) “What’s My Job? Defining the role of the classroom teacher.” (2010) in Marzano  R. J. (Ed.) On excellence in teaching (pp.345-367). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Sahlberg, P. (2010) Finnish Lessons. New York, NY. Teacher’s College Press, Columbia University

~ by anitawesto on April 15, 2013.

ceramics, drawing & painting, sculpture, teaching