Sunday, May 10, 2015

R is for Respect

When I began teaching in my current district ten years ago I was excited at the prospect of working in the only school where I ever wanted to teach. This particular school was where I student taught and where I chose to send my children. It is my neighborhood school so when I walk down the halls I'm not only greeting parents of the kids I teach but my neighbors too. There is something to be said for working in the community in which you live. I'm vested in ways that others may not be and I feel everyday that I make a difference in the lives of children and in many ways making my community a better place to live.
In my classroom each day we talk a lot about respectful behavior, how to treat each other in the way that we would like to be treated. We talk about being bucket fillers and not bucket dippers by putting good feelings in the invisible buckets of others and not taking good feelings out by being mean or disrespectful with our words and actions.

Although sometimes it's a struggle to teach our smallest students what the word respect means, we try everyday by being good models about what it means to be respectful. They show us respect when they listen intently to a focus lesson, follow directions, are silent during a fire drill or remember to walk quietly through the hallways so as not to disturb other kids who are learning.
This past week was teacher appreciation week. We have the most wonderfully appreciative group of parents heading up our PTO. They feed us, pamper us, and generally make us feel valued by their words and actions. They appreciate what each of us does to educate their children, understanding how much time and effort goes in to planning for the lessons that will help their children grow into successful little humans. They appreciate that we are not only teaching their children how to read, write and compute but teaching them how to empathetic, how to share and to respect each other. They appreciate that we are the ones giving their child a hug when they are sad, providing a Band-aid for an invisible paper cut, washing chocolate pudding off the little faces and keeping them safe and happy when the are at school Not only do those parents make us feel appreciated, they respect us for the hard work and difficult job we have.

We teachers respect and support each other. When one of us is feeling defeated or overwhelmed we are there with a hug, with a listening ear and sometimes a shoulder to cry on. We plan together, we share ideas, we cover each other's classes when we need a breather and share a laugh or two when we most need it.

Lately however, respect from our school district is not so easily found. With all our hard work and dedication, with all our own money spent on supplies we have been made to feel that what we do is just not good enough. The words and actions of those not in the trenches are actions that are disrespectful of our time, our expertise, our wallets and our families.

We are given tasks that rarely have any direct correlation to educating young children, paperwork that bogs us down and takes time away from planning developmentally appropriate lessons that foster creativity and social well being. There is a general feeling of distrust that we are able to teach in the way we know how.  Although we hear the words, "we know you are working hard" the actions of those saying those words speak differently.

Everyday I hear of another teacher who is "getting her ducks in a row", working on his resume, gathering letters of recommendation and references, opting to find another district to work in, a district where the actions and words of the administration  are words of respect, a district that understands those of us on the front lines have a pretty good idea about how young children learn.

I don't know a single teacher who does not  believe that there is always room for improvement in our teaching practices. We are our own worst critics. We know when a lesson fails and we make mental notes about how we can make the lesson better next time.

We know and respect the children in our classrooms. We take the time to get to know them, their likes, their interests, their needs. We take the time to get to know their families and their struggles. We understand that every child in the school is ours even if they left our classroom years before and even if they never learned within the walls of our rooms.

We understand the need for data and we understand its value, but we also understand that data is only a small part of knowing how to best reach our children. We understand that we need to educate the whole child, their musical abilities, their creativity in art, their social needs. We need to respect each child for their individuality and not disregard that to concentrate solely on their latest reading level and whether they score proficient on their latest math assessment.

Just as we attempt to respect each child as individuals, teachers need to be respected for their individual teaching style and expertise. It saddens me to see the best teachers I know ready to leave our school and district because they just can't be disrespected any longer. This is not about not wanting to work hard it's about being recognized for the work we are doing.

I don't pretend to know everything about turning around a school district, but there is one thing of which I am certain, disrespecting teachers will never raise achievement, it will only drive us away.