I saw a former student this week. He is one of those of those kids I will never forget. There were three of them actually- Joe and Dalton and Jack. They are forever connected in my memory. Fun and full of life, they made each day an adventure. I was on a half team that year, so I taught both English and reading and had a study hall. Some of those students had me three times day- that was a lot of Mrs. Phipps.
Those three came back to visit sometimes when they were in high school and on one of those visits taught me one of my harshest lessons as teacher. In an attempt to save precious instructional time, I would list each assignment on the board along with the last name of any students who did not have it turned in. It made it faster and easier for me to remind them what they still needed to hand in. Great system. Well the boys came back to visit and there happened to be no assignments on the board. They asked, “What happened to the Wall of Shame?”
So that happened. Something I thought was a great system to save instructional time was actually a shaming experience for my students about whom I cared deeply. Of course it was. Seems so obvious now.
The road to Master Teacher is long and filled with moment after moment of hard-learned lessons. While I am not in the classroom anymore, I feel like I am still learning more and more about best instructional practices.
I regret the times I used word finds in class. I regret the time my students spent making stuffed pigs and pig cakes as final projects for A Day No Pigs Would Day. I regret the countless days spent typing “final copies” in the computer lab. I want that instructional time back to do close reading and make actual meaning of language and vocabulary. I want that time back to turn student loose on research questions of their own design about Shakers and agriculture and the Depression and family life.
When we know better, we do better.
Education is a reflective profession. We are charged with a challenging, ever-changing job that matters deeply. Our systems and our structures need to allow for data-based decisions, collaboration, common planning, Professional Learning Communities, and time for reflection. Our leaders need the vision to make time where there seemingly is none. Our teachers need the tools to plan, teach, reflect, change. Our schools need the culture and climate to encourage risk and reflection.
As I look back on a lifetime in education, I really should not regret those lessons that failed, those projects that lacked purpose, or those systems that defeated my real purpose. I learned so much from each of them. When I knew better, I did better. I was blessed to have students who were honest about what worked and what didn’t. I was lucky enough to work with colleagues who mentored me and who showed me a better way. We learned together. And I was privileged to have leaders who allowed me take risks and to fail at times in order to learn and to grow.
As the beginning of the year honeymoon comes to an end, and the real day-to-day work takes shape, I wish you all a year of risk and reflection. I am overwhelmed everyday by the masterful work happening in classrooms all over our districts. Our students are in good and caring hands!