Education as an Educator

Sometimes I feel like I go to more classes or trainings than my students. If I were to go ask others in the education arena, every single one of them would agree.

Before entering the school district as a teacher, every person must have at least a bachelor’s degree. To advance in any sort of meaningful way, an educator must earn a Master’s degree. To move into administration, educators must obtain a degree in educational leadership. To renew and maintain a teaching certificate the educator attends a variety of professional development for recertification points the total of which depends on the individual state regulations. Throughout the school year educators attend in school day PDs designed, hopefully, to equip educators with the necessary tools and resources.

I understand the motivation behind the regulations. The creators and implementations have good intentions. (I try to give them the benefit of the doubt as far as intentions go.) A lot goes wrong when it comes to implementation.

My first encounter with this phenomenon came with my initial foray into the profession. I attended a challenging K-12 school and later graduated with a bachelor’s degree in which nearly every class challenged me to work hard to earn the high grades. I entered my graduate education program with the expectation that my classwork would challenge me beyond what I had experienced in undergraduate education.

I applied myself with full vigor to these classes, only to find that phenomenon where you push or pull too hard and find yourself flying because of the sudden release. I attacked initial assignments with my usual overachiever vigor. Then I looked around and saw the results of my work and the work of my classmates. I ended up being challenged in a meaningful way only in practicum and student teaching. I did not realize it then but much of that challenge came from inadequate preparation and training.

When I started teaching the first time around, I marveled-not in a good way-at how so many trainings and meetings devolved into vent sessions. I had support from my instructional coach but little to no training on how to transition from teaching social studies or language arts to teaching Spanish. Naive and inexperienced, I figured that the skills I had learned would easily translate to the new subject. I had no training in developing multiple lesson plans; my first year I had four distinct preps. I spent most of those two years so completely underwater, I have no recollections of faculty meetings or PDs.

When I returned to school, I received what I craved, challenging, stimulating education. I had to work to earn this 4.0. I worked far more vigorously than I ever had to in my first Master’s degree. I knew that graduate work was supposed to be difficult.

After my long hiatus from teaching, I yearned for as much training as I could possibly have. I wanted to equip myself with as many techniques as I possibly could so that I could give these students the best education possible. The phrase “utter frustration” approximates my feeling after each so-called training. I either knew all the information or the training lacked any depth or both. Additionally, many of these trainings contained “discussions” with colleagues about an inadequately explained topic or a hands-on demonstration of a particular technique that added nothing to my understanding of the topic.

I hoped for better when it came to the wonderful opportunity to take graduate TESOL courses from Furman for free, courtesy of the district. I thought it would challenge me, finally. Not even close. We held many discussions, postponed due dates, significantly adjusted assignments to make them work for the students in our class. I had hardly any outside of class work to complete. I hoped that this current semester would hold more applicable subject matter. While it does, I now feel a bit of frustration with the material and in class meetings and their lack of specificity regarding the teaching of English Language Learners rather than students in general.

The icing on the cake came with the two courses I took this past summer as required to add the Gifted and Talented Endorsement to my teaching certificate, a stipulation on my employment contract. I knew that logistics would be difficult with all the travel I planned. I hoped to also have a bit of a challenge academically as well so that I could grow as an educator. What came with these classes blew my mind but not in a good way. We met only twice, once at the beginning and once at the end of each class. The remainder of the class “took place” in Google Classroom. The assignments looked on the surface to be somewhat vigorous, so the Type-A student within me indulged in a brief panic moment although that quickly dissipated when I observed the incongruity of the copied and pasted instructions with the format of the class and ability of the “instructor.” I could fill numerous pages with many ridiculous recollections but I will limit myself to just two. One, all of our assignments for the entire first class were graded on one day, more specifically within two hours. With approximately twenty students in the class each completing six assignments, I’ll let you figure out the ramification. Two, due to a much longer story, I never obtained the textbook for the second class, the one geared for curriculum and instruction. I cobbled together responses for the reading reflection as well as a unit and lesson plan with zero additional instruction or support. I based my work solely on prior knowledge yet I earned full credit.

All of these stories indicate a glaring discrepancy between perception and reality. Peruse the department of education’s website, specifically the certification requirement page. All of that looks good on paper. Require teachers to have technology proficiency while classes on the basics of Google docs provide points to satisfy this requirement. Require teachers of gifted and talented students to obtain an endorsement to show that they took classes to learn how to best teach these students while accepting credits from a substandard class. Require that teachers attend trainings outside contract hours so they can have a day off which results in additional time requirements outside of school. These teachers attend these trainings just to earn the hours which means they often bring things to grade or other things to finish, thus learning nothing from the “training.”

I struggle with the disconnect. It shouldn’t be this way. Something need to change. More requirements is not the answer. The problem is so endemic, I and others like me cannot change it on our own. A part of me wants to put something like “it might not ever change” into the discussion here. That would be giving up. I don’t do that. I also will not say that I have no answers. The reason that needed change seems so hopeless is that the solution requires a heart change. Educators on both side of the table need to adjust their approach. Right now the only thing I can do is change my own approach and advocate for change.

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