I work in a pretty great school. We have a warm, supportive environment, and our school is welcoming to adults and children. I don’t have any plans to leave, and that wasn’t true of the first three schools I worked in.
On the other hand, we have our flaws. Our test scores are low. Our students mostly live in poverty, or close to it, and many of them live incredibly impoverished and stressful lives. And there are some on our staff who don’t really believe that all of our children can learn.
A group of teachers and administrators started work on this last year, and spent a lot of time over the summer learning, thinking, talking, and planning. We now have had a few staff development meetings on the topic of transforming our school culture. Yesterday was one such meeting, and it was intense and fascinating.
It’s easy to dismiss new initiatives, if you are a teacher. After all, new initiatives come down the pike almost every year. You’ll spend time learning and training and practicing something new, only to have the district abandon it within a few years. So yes, you can become a little jaded. But there is something about the hopefulness and skill of this team that is making me believe that we can do it.
We do have a teacher….shall we call him Dr. No?….who is predictably against every single new initiative that we have to deal with. (He drives me insane.) He is reflexively negative about everything, is pretty sure that he’s a great teacher and needs to learn nothing new, and in our meeting actually said that there are kids in our school who can’t learn. Who won’t learn. And about whom there is nothing we teachers can do.
I had to raise my hand at that point. I think I spoke right after him. I told the story of my first year of teaching, when I taught kindergarten with great care and creativity. I was pretty pleased with myself until the fall of my second year, when I learned that the first graders from my class didn’t know the alphabet. “But I taught the alphabet!” I protested. My fellow kindergarten teachers (what a wonderful team they were) prodded me to question if I had actually taught the alphabet if none of my students had learned it. I told the staff yesterday that that was the moment when I had to decide which way I would go. And that was when I decided that it was my responsibility to make sure that my students were learning, and that I wasn’t done with my job if they weren’t getting it. “I never want to lose hope that they can get it, and I will never stop trying to make sure that they do.”
Then another teacher, also somewhat difficult, raised her hand, and in her comments said something about how we shouldn’t do any “shaming and blaming.” I took this as a reference to me. Had I “shamed and blamed” Dr. No?
After the meeting, I checked in with the kindergarten teacher who teaches next door. She rolled her eyes and said emphatically, don’t be ridiculous, you did nothing of the sort. Later another teacher said to me, “thanks for what you said today,” and not much after that, the Princess said the same thing. And then a kindergarten teacher who has some of my former students told me that she is amazed by how prepared my old students are, and laughed about how they already know everything she was planning to teach them, and she thanked me for being such a good teacher. That made my day.
But back to our school culture. It will be really interesting to see how this develops.