Friday, January 16, 2015

Educational Erosion

In my heart I believe every single teacher went into the profession with the intention of changing lives and inspiring kids. I truly believe this because the alternative is too horrible to contemplate. Yet, every single one of us can name a teacher or two in our building who seem to have lost their desire to do amazing work with kids. On the surface you may think these teachers are “sucky” but I think we are being a bit shortsighted and missing the larger picture when it comes to less effective teachers. It is my belief many teachers are simply experiencing symptoms of educational erosion. Just as cliffs along a coastline erode and shrink, I too think teachers suffer a similar fate. There are many variables, which impact the rate of this erosion.

Water Pressure
Just as cliff sides around the world experience different waves, storms, and tides, teachers have different pressures put on them as well. These pressures come in the form of testing, evaluations, initiatives, administrators, parents, legislation and the laundry list of things, which ultimately stand in the way of teachers doing their jobs. While a teacher may have stood tall on day one of their first year, the job and the stressors eventually erode away the tough exterior.

The number of initiatives, programs, and new responsibilities being placed on teachers is increasing to a monsoon level in some schools. Teachers’ very fabric of being which they started their careers with is being blasted out to sea.

Type of Rock
Cliffs can be comprised of different rocks determining the erosion rate and the same can be said of teachers. Some teachers are emotionally and mentally more prepared to withstand the years of teaching with its onslaught of emotional and physical waves. The reality is, some teachers are built differently and can handle all that is tossed at them. Yet, just as it is with rock, they all have a breaking point.

The hardest rock can withstand the strongest Mother Nature can throw its way. However, over time the rock changes and erodes into something different. The inspired and passionate teacher from day one evolves and erodes in the same manner. When you see a “sucky” teacher, stop and wonder what they have experienced to make them the way they are. While this is in no way supporting poor teachers, it is to say sometimes people have been beaten down so much they can’t stand back up enough to return to that person they were on their first day.

Supports
As a trail runner I see places where erosion is being stemmed and even reversed through supports such as walls, barriers or other assistive measures. Teachers need support to survive the waves of standards, assessments, initiatives, meetings and everything else wearing them down. This is not to say teachers are pathetic and can’t handle the rigors of teaching. However, I fear we will have a generation of teachers leave the profession because teaching itself is eroding into purely data management and assessments rather than relationship building and learning as a joyful act. I have yet met a teacher who says they are tired of teaching. Yet, they are tired of everything else asked of them, which ultimately gets in the way of the job of actually teaching.

Administrators who step up for their staff to push back and protect them from the storms of our educational systems are to be commended. They are the ones who can help stem the erosion of our teachers so as not to lose them. In addition, fellow teachers need to be able to support one another and help weather the storms cropping up seemingly more and more regularly.

Shelter
Just as harbors and bays provide shelter from the storms, teachers too are seeking shelter. In some extreme cases, they seek shelter by simply leaving the profession all together. The feelings of stress overwhelm them to the point of exhaustion and they leave. It can be argued some of these teachers should leave but I argue we are losing the good ones too.

Another shelter teachers are taking is through leaving for positions of less accountability and pressure. Instead of teaching tested subjects they head into the waters of electives and other roles where there is shelter from high expectations in the form of rigid standards or high stakes testing. This is not to say these teachers are hiding from accountability but they need a space where they can interact with kids in a positive way without the pressure and stressors looming over them brought on by over standardization and testing.

The final shelter teachers are taking is holing up and shutting down in their rooms altogether. They ignore the new initiatives and everything new being asked of them. For them it is about survival and getting through the day.


Educational erosion may be a made up idea but the reality is teachers erode over time. Most if not all teachers walk into their first teaching job with the best intentions and a good heart. Yet somewhere along the way the system batters them into a shape or form almost unrecognizable to where they started. We must be better to our teachers, especially our new ones, if want them to withstand the weathering of a career in education. Erosion over time can create smooth and polished masterpieces if it is controlled and nurtured. However, if unprotected it will ravage and destroy all in its path.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Bullies, Trolls and Fakes

As many of you know I am a huge proponent of social media use for educators. The potential positives for teachers and administrators alike are boundless and I know my professional growth has been impacted greatly through my use of social media. I have been able to gain countless resources to pull into my practice as a classroom teacher, which has benefited my students. In addition, I have been exposed to ideas and thoughts influencing the way I think about and perform my duties as a teacher. On top of it all, I have made countless connections with inspiring, friendly, helpful and even humorous individuals around the globe. Every single one of these people has changed the way I look at many aspects of my role as a teacher both from the good and the bad.

However, having said all of that, I feel as though there are pieces to social media many people are aware of but seldom point out when talking about it to new users. In fact, there is a pretty dirty underbelly to social media worth mentioning and being made aware of.

For starters, there are bullies abound in the world and social media is no exception. There will be a time when you will share something and you will be bullied for what you share. It will come in the form of derogatory tweets or negative comments on your post, picture or video. In some cases you may want to write about something culturally, politically or racially charged. Inevitably you will be harassed because you are not ____(fill in blank with a race, gender, other social status)____ and therefore you are not worthy of taking up that banner. On one hand some will ridicule you for bringing the subject up at all while on the other you will be ridiculed because you should have written or talked about it sooner. With some people there will be no winning.

Another thing will be when you share something and someone else will tell you they are already doing it or has previously done it. These trolls will claim your idea is not new and therefore people shouldn’t celebrate your own personal innovation but rather condemn you for not arriving at that idea earlier. They will not be content with your personal discovery or a new idea but rather judgmental you didn’t come up with it sooner or that you are just copying something already being done.

In addition to bullying, you have to watch out for the fake teachers out there trying to put out the persona of perfection. If you follow certain individuals or groups you might think you are inadequate or in no way capable of teaching at the level they do. Every post, tweet or picture is the model of the perfect classroom and the perfect lesson. It is easy to follow them and feel like there are impossible standards to live up to. In many cases I have looked at teacher’s content online and feel as though they are prefect in every single aspect of teaching. It appears as though social media is being used as a way to make others feel bad for not doing all the amazing things other people are doing in their schools or classrooms.

Having said all of that, I still support social media use and encourage teachers to use it as a way to connect themselves to the world. Bullies, trolls and fakes are there but that is life. Ignore, block and move on. Also know they are clearly in the minority. Don’t ever be afraid to stand up for what you believe in and write, tweet, post what you are passionate about. Recognize everyone is at a different place in this wild journey we call education and life. Some are further along than you and will potentially put you down for it. Ignore them and think about those who are at the same place or a different place and will be influenced by you sharing your work. As for the “perfect” teachers out there, recognize it is not all true. Many teachers talk themselves up in social media but also they are not completely honest or at least not fully transparent. It is not popular to share real failures and days where we had a horrible lesson or blew up on a kid. Bottom line, people are only sharing the best of what they have to offer. There is nothing wrong with this but just keep this in mind when reading about those so-called perfect lessons or strategies. Realize it and just keep focusing on making yourself better one day at a time.


Social media can be the key to unlocking great connections for you and your students. However, just be aware of the trolls, bullies and fakes out there. Recognize them and move on to create those meaningful connections that will better you as a teacher and as a person.