The fastest way to destroy a newly trained enthusiastic teacher is to drop them in a school with a toxic culture. #Edchat
— Tom Whitby (@tomwhitby) July 17, 2012
This just so happens to be the top tweet of tonight's edchat. I was excited to discover tonight that I could actually participate in #edchat! I was really excited about tonight's topic, too: personalizing learning for students. But here I am, at 7:20...right in the midst of the chat blogging. I had to leave. It had nothing to do with the chat.
First, I have to be upfront and say that I (along with thousands of other teachers) can absolutely relate to this tweet. I remember my enthusiasm bubbling over and dying to share with my colleagues. My willingness to do anything to meet the needs of my students. Know what happened when I'd excitedly share a strategy or idea that worked well with my students during a team meeting? I was chastised by a colleague. I'm a pretty avid reader as well, and devoured professional books. During PLC meetings (a time you are expected to collaborate to meet the needs of students) when I would bring or quickly grab a book that met the topic I would get eye rolls and snarled looks from my colleagues. I can go on, but would rather not. It's depressing. Treating colleagues like garbage is surely one way to destroy a teacher.
Although the social emotional culture can be toxic, schools can quickly snuff out the enthusiastic spirit. It can also happen when schools make teachers feel as if they have no control over what happens in their classrooms. Now that we are in this era of accountability education has become more standardized and less personalized.
I have sat in meetings where we have been told to teach however we want, but just make sure that we are teaching to an identified objective that everyone else on the team is teaching to at that same exact day at that same exact time. Remember to use the same book that your teammates are using to teach said objective (make sure you stop and say the same things your team mates say while reading it). And while you are reading it, make sure that you are using the same strategies to 'engage' students in the objective. And every student is to be working on the same task in your room that students are working on in the other classrooms because they are all going to be taking the same assessment. How is a teacher supposed to apply their style in a situation like that? How are they supposed to personalize learning when there is hardly any wiggle room to differentiate?
And the reason why all of this is done? Because of accountability. We have to assess kids (collect data) to determine whether or not they have mastered said objective. Because said objective is on a future high stakes test. And in between teachers are to administer assessments that will predict how well the students will do on particular questions on particular high stakes tests. I often wonder how we can find time to even teach when assessment takes up the majority of instructional time. How are enthusiastic teachers supposed to keep that enthusiasm alive when every thing that they believe about education is not what they are allowed to practice?
Twitter (and the chats that occur there) is a great place for professionals to share ideas, keep their spark ignited, and inspire each other. I have learned a lot from other professionals on Twitter and am a better educator for it, but there is a harsh reality for thousands of educators that does not mesh with the optimistic exchange of ideas on Twitter. Their school funding is limited. Their access is denied. They are told what, when, and how to teach. Maintaining a positive can-do attitude online can quickly become frustrating when you realize that you
Yes, we can exchange ideas on Twitter and receive the positive reinforcement that is absent in our schools. Yes, we can silently shut our classroom doors and cross our fingers that an administrator doesn't come in when you happen to be off script. Is that enough? To just chat? To share our ideals of what classrooms should look like, sound like, feel like but never actually make those ideals a realization? How do we, as professionals, stop engaging in practices that we don't believe in just because we are told to do so? Because we are afraid that we will be fired for doing so? How do we support each other to do that? I don't know the path. But believe it begins with chatting and ends in action. We just have to be brave enough to take those risks.