The Hidden Truth in Teacher Learning and Support

After spending two amazing days learning at the ITEC Conference and finding time to process all of my learning, new connections, and what my next steps in my learning path holds for me, I wanted to touch on an issue that stood out quite a bit this year.

In my makerspace session I shared with the audience that fact that my wife who I believe is an amazing educator(with or without my bias) has come home more stressed and exhausted than any other year in her teaching career. She is doing amazing work along with many of her colleagues, but the burden of teaching mixed with high expectations is taking a toll. This sentiment was expressed many times at ITEC with the educators I spoke with at the conference.

She is not alone in this story. This is not a bash to school systems as I know the issues all schools are facing. The pressures to perform. The pressure of test scores. The pressures of doing more with less funding. The list goes on and on. What I am referring to is a missing element taking place across the nation in schools everywhere. This element is one that I think is overlooked because it is not obvious to the general observation of schools, but I would bet that many educators can relate.

There is a fundamental issue happening in education right now and it scares me. The issue is the unintentional consequences of not supporting our teachers where they need it most. Here are some trends that I continue to see happen more every year:

  • The amount of work and time spent on developing ideas, framework, and systems around buzzwords that when the work finally reaches a stage of implementation it is replaced by another buzzword starting the process all over again.
  • The amount of pressure placed on teachers to perform miracles in the classroom increases every single year.
  • The amount of paperwork and papertrails on every single thing a teacher performs and a student exhibits is increasing at the rate of Moore’s Law, but instead of talking about transistors on a circuit board we are talking about the amount of data reported and collected in a smaller time frame of teaching. I like to call this Coffeechug Law
    • Coffeechug Law – the observation that the number of pieces of data collected in a dense overpacked school day doubles approximately every one year of service in education.
  • The expectation of educators to continue their “professional learning” to achieve all the latest buzzwords has become a mandate with very little support or empowerment(mostly due to lack of time, money, resources, and leaders who actually know the topic that they are demanding).
  • The guilt trip placed on educators when they do find a way to get out and learn to make themselves better.

Just this morning on Facebook I read a post where an educator was sharing how it is actually easier to stay at school super sick than to leave. Think on this for a minute. Is this the type of learning culture that we need our model learners(teachers) to be working in when they are sick and probably in no shape to continue to teaching, but have to stay because it is easier? Because there are probably not any subs? Because the guilt that is often placed on them is too much to bear(I think this is not intentional, but an unintended message).

While I was at ITEC I could not believe how many educators I spoke with between sessions were so excited to be able to have the chance to learn new ideas. They had an opportunity to relight their fire to continue in this job or perhaps just add a bit more kindle to their fire to realize that great things are happening. They had two days to connect with other educators who are in their same shoes working to figure out how to make it happen.

However…….

These same educators were having their learning impacted. They were stressed because they received an email from their admin that their students were not well behaved. They were notified that there were not enough subs(“Don’t worry we will figure something out! You just have fun at the conference!”). They were sent a text informing them to call a parent. They were reminded about the make up work they would have to do because they were not physically seated in a meeting that we all know probably lead nowhere except for another meeting.

They were given so many things to stress and worry about that were out of their control that I wonder how in the world could they possibly learn with eagerness and excitement when these things weigh them down?(Is this any different for the kids in the classroom?) I know that they had to spend countless hours writing sub plans, organizing the room, sorting out the materials, talking with other teachers about plans A, B, and C in case something happened.

There is so much work to be done for a teacher to actually learn that I wonder if the work is worth the opportunity to learn?

And yet, they will head back to their schools and be told that they must be lifelong learners. They must be innovative. They must differentiate for their students. They must collect all this data and make real time decisions. They must join this book study or read this article or watch this video. They must, must, must, but are not given the time, space, and freedom to actually learn. All of this work spills over into their personal life. We often speak of work/life balance or how work and life just blend together.

I don’t agree. I think work expectations steal our time away from family, friends, and our personal life. This is has somehow been deemed acceptable. However, when was the last time that you were allowed to have your personal life spill over into your work life? Exactly, it never happens. There is no blending, only a stolen mentality disguised as “blended” by those in charge.

I think we are facing an issue that is not talked about enough. We must support teachers. We must empower them. We must give them the time to go out and learn. It is why we see less and less classroom teachers at conferences like ITEC because despite the fact that teachers are urged to attend they are really tied down to their classroom by the pressure and guilt placed on them for leaving the room for a day or two. And yet still expected to learn and grow and develop.

I believe that if we are going to place all these expectations on teachers to differentiate and empower students, then we must do the same for teachers. Let them attend conferences that benefit their teaching. Let them learn without guilt. Support them when they return. Let them know that everything will be fine when they leave. It is not different than giving a couple a weekend break from parenting for the first time. You have to help them realize that everything will be okay and to get out and recharge the battery.

My fear is that if we don’t start providing proper support for our educators mentally and emotionally, then we will continue to lose them. Lose them when they leave the field of work. Lose them mentally and we are left with a physical body burned out by expectations that has transformed them into a robotic data collection device instead of a fired up passionate educators ready to change the lives of students. Lose them when they feel like their life work is not important enough. Lose them to buzzwords that change every few years. Lose them because they don’t feel valued.

We cannot allow them to have their flame of passion for learning die out. We must provide kindle, warmth, and support. We have to continue to provide the support to get out and learn from others. We have to celebrate their attempts to try new things. We have to allow them to be the professionals that they were hired to be.

It is time that we pour the same amount of time, money, and effort into our teachers that we do for students. They are just as important for the learning process to be successful and I would argue even more important. Without them, education and learning cannot happen. They are the most important element we have in our schools and we must continue to help feel valued and loved and most importantly supported in their learning journey.

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