The Complacent Classroom Teacher

I recently recieved a phone call from a very upset parent who asked to come in and talk to me.  She mentioned that I have recently been away from my classroom for several days and she was concerned about the number of subs in my classroom.

It’s a vaild concern and one I was 100% ready to respond to.  When she came in, I also asked her to bring her child (my student).

This was our conversation:

Her concern was that she felt it wasn’t possible for her child to be receiving quality education from a substitute teacher.  Long story short, I advised her that substitute teachers all have teaching degrees too….but anyways.  More to the point of our story….

I turned to the student (who was incredible embarassed) and asked, “Why is it that I sometimes leave the classroom?”

The student explained exactly what I have been telling them all year….that in order for me to be better at my job it’s important that I attend my own learning sessions either via AISI meetings at head office, day long PD sessions, or multiple day conferences.  The student ended by saying, “It’s not like she’s going shopping!  She’s learning to be a better teacher so she can come back and teach us new stuff!”

I then explained to the parent that I am well aware ahead of time when I’m going to be gone and that I always try to book the same sub (a fully capable teacher) to replace me during my absense.  This “guest teacher” (because I hate the word, sub) gets to know the class, the routines, and how I like them to be taught. 

I also showed her how I stay connected to my class via my class wiki, Google Docs (with an interactive realtime chat feature), and twitter.  I showed her that I don’t leave my students with busy work.  I leave them with meaningful assignments, often project based, that allow them to continue their learning so that my absence isn’t an intrusion on their learning time.  They can still ask me questions about anything they need and in fact, they do exactly that! 

Recently I attended the Middle Years Conference in Edmonton, AB.  I opened a Google Doc and provided the link on my wiki page so the kids could jump in at any time.  Not only did they jump in to ask questions about a poetry project, they also read the notes I was taking and asked questions about MY learning.  One student said, “The speaker seems to be anti-technology.  Does he feel technology is hurting us in the classroom?” 

To which I quickly responded with, “Not at all!  He’s very pro-technology.  He’s just explaining what we need to be aware of as potential pitfalls to avoid.”

After showing the parent all of the connectedness I still have with my class her final response was, “Wow, it’s amazing what you can do with technology.  I wish all teachers did this.”  And she walked out of my room completely happy and secure with what happens in my room when I’m gone.

Throughout the conversation I had with her and continuing conversations I have with my students I let them know that I’m not happy with the “status quo” in my teaching abilities.  I never teach the same unit the same way twice and I do as much professional development as I can in a year because that’s how I grow as a teacher.  In fact, my opinion is that if I didn’t attend professional development so I could always be 100% with my students then I would be ignoring a huge part of my professional responsibility to parents and students.

It’s not good enough for me to be happy with what is going on in my classroom.  I refuse to be complacent.  I want to learn, grow and seek to be a better teacher than I was last year.  Anything else is unacceptable.

Don’t fear the teacher who leaves their classroom with a “sub” to go out and learn.  Fear the teacher who never leaves their class…ever.

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About Cherra-Lynne Olthof

I've been a middle school teacher for my entire career (which began in 2001). Like my students, I too am a life long learner. My goals include helping my students to achieve their goals, support them in their learning, and to encourage them to think "beyond the grade".
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3 Responses to The Complacent Classroom Teacher

  1. Lee Winik says:

    That was a great response. I really like the idea of using google docs to let the kids know what is happening during the conference. It models lifelong learning to the students and lets them know that you are accountable to them by continually learning “new stuff”.

  2. Great post! I love the way that you handled this situation and it was great to see that your students understand the need for us to be learners as well. We should always be concerned with the amount of time we spend out of the classroom. I believe that this tension will allow us to better analyze the potential benefits of PD we are thinking of attending. If the PD won’t affect our practice positively, why should we take time away from where we make a real difference? This also speaks to PD providers needing to supply workshops, seminars, etc… that will have a lasting benefit on teaching practice.
    Another thing to note is that PD is our professional obligation. We must take part in activities to better ourselves as teachers. It isn’t up for discussion. Of course, how each teacher goes about this is determined by their own professional needs at the time.

    • cherraolthof says:

      I agree that it is up to the teacher to determine how they can best gain their professional development. That which we choose holds way more water for us than some of the imposed PD that is placed upon us (although even then I try to gain as much as I can). Next year I’m going to include my students on my PD choices though. In the end I want to learn when they want to learn too. I’ve already been experimenting with letting them pick some of my sessions when I go to conferences 🙂

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