Being a teacher means embracing constant change. Yet all too often, teachers are told when, how and why to change. In this monthly column, Mrs. Mimi takes on creating change for herself by rethinking old practices and redefining teaching on her own terms.
Happy Fourth of July! It’s summer! You made it! How is your love affair with the snooze button going? Or have you gone into full relax mode and (gasp) stopped setting an alarm all together
Either way, I hope you are enjoying the ability to be an independent being, free from the insane schedules, endless meetings, and mouse poop that tend to fill up our days and take us away from our students.
Speaking of independence…let’s take a moment (with or without a beverage of your choice) to rethink the idea of independence in the classroom, shall we? After all, it’s summer
; we have a bit more time to think idealistically about these types of things. I find it’s easier to be all reflective at times when I’m sitting in my pajamas with nary a pile of classroom data in sight.
Can I tell you about one of the saddest moments of my year? A moment that I continue to replay in my mind wondering, “How can we better empower teachers?”
I was running a small discussion group for teachers working with high percentages of English Language Learners. We were wading in the fabulous muck that is the workshop model of teaching reading and writing when a teacher came up with a brilliant modification that had the potential to make a significant difference for her little friends. Me
: That is brilliant! I say yes! Do that. Her
: Yeah, but my principal would never allow me to do that. Me
(struggling with the use of the word “allow”): Have you talked to him or her about your ideas? Her
: No, but I know he prefers us to all do the same thing at the same time. Me
: What if you went to him and presented your thinking? Just like you did here. Explain what you’ve tried, how it went, what you’d like to change and why. You’re making a thoughtful and purposeful decision about instruction. Her
: I’m just really afraid to say anything or to stand out. Me
And I am rarely
I am sure we can all agree that cultivating independent thinkers who have a love of learning is a pretty basic goal that most of us hold for our students. I know there isn’t a score on a test to measure that but still—it’s kind of important, no?
But how can we honestly hold our students to this standard, or preach about the importance of independent problem solving and being a creative thinker and blah blah blah
when many of us are too afraid to do it ourselves in our own work lives?
Now, I know that many of us may work in school environments that make it difficult to take a strong stance about our teaching practices, but I’m not asking you to run into the main office and burn a teacher’s manual. I’m asking us to rethink the way that we model independent thinking and independent practice in our classrooms.
How does your classroom reflect your beliefs and ideals as an educator? How does the work of your students reflect their true independent skills and interests?
When I think about a truly independent learner, I think about a student who knows what to do when their pencil breaks (hint: it does not
involve asking me for a new one), a student who can see multiple solutions to a problem, a student who isn’t afraid to try something new or get something wrong, a student who has a strong reading life, a student who can name the interests and passions that they want to pursue.
I do not think about a student who wants to know exactly how many pages have to be read (so they don’t have to spend an ounce more effort than necessary), a student who just wants to be told how to do something rather than give it a try or a student who comes to something difficult (um, like a new word) and just stops.
As professional educators, are we simply asking, “What should I teach tomorrow and how do I do it?” Or are we considering the curriculum in front of us and how we can adapt it to suit our needs? As teachers, are we creating an environment where our students are completing a series of tasks, or are we fostering them to demonstrate true independence in their work?
So, stay in your pajamas, head to the beach, sit in your favorite coffee shop, or really, do whatever you want because it is summer
. But in the midst of your well-deserved relaxing, take a moment to think about your independence as an educator.
Who do you want to be and how can you take a few small steps to get there? Mrs. Mimi is a pseudonymous teacher who taught both first and second grades at a public elementary school in New York City. She's the author of IT'S NOT ALL FLOWERS AND SAUSAGES: MY ADVENTURES IN SECOND GRADE, which sprung from her popular blog of the same name. Mimi also has her doctorate in education from Teachers College, Columbia University.
© 2012 Mrs. Mimi. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.