Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Teachers, Believe in each other, plz!

I woke up before my alarm this morning (thanks to flappy dachshund ears). Instead of working out I decided to catch up on my dvr'd Oprah. I watched the Life Class she co-hosted with Iyanla Vanzant. The topic was "Terrible Things Women Do to Each Other" - a fantastic episode that was way too short, in my opinion.

It stirred up a brief series of tweets this morning as I thought about the ways in which teachers tear each other down. 

The four main ways in which women treat each other badly as outlined by Iyanla are:

  1. Lying
  2. Betrayal
  3. Gossip
  4. Competition
Any bells ringing for anyone already? They were for me. Working in a school with mostly other women it is easy to fall into these behaviors. It is not as easy to avoid them. Specifically gossip. 

How Iyanla Defines Gossip:

Gossip is when you have a malice of intent or mindless, third-party conversation to someone about someone, something you haven't said to that someone. 

As a fourth/fifth grade teacher for 12 of my 14 years I've had plenty of opportunities to gossip about the teachers before me with regards to my students' struggles. It's easy to make blanket statements about what we perceive is going on in other classrooms. Usually something along the lines of...."Well, you know they don't do diddly-squat in x grade EVER" or "They're fine in x grade, but then when they get to so-and-so's class nothing happens". I've made those statements. Did I attend classes with those struggling students?? No. Did I bother to talk to "last year's" teacher?? No.

Last year I had the amazing luck to teach 1st grade. At first I didn't see how this was lucky because I've always told people "there is NO WAY I'd teach any grade below 3rd!". The one year I spent in 1st grade completely changed my perspective on what goes on in those primary grade classrooms. 

First of all, 1st grade teachers do NOT sit down. Ever. From the moment the first student walks in in the morning until you walk them to their buses in the afternoon you are on. the. move. (A corollary to this law is that 1st grade teachers also do not check their e-mails during the day.)

Second, in my experience at a predominantly Hispanic Title I school, the performance levels of the students are VASTLY different. In upper elementary I had students that ranged from 2nd grade reading level all the way to 8th+, but they could all at least READ a little. It's different when you're faced with students who don't know their letters, numbers, or colors lumped in with students who were already reading and ready to move on to short chapter books. 

I felt guilty all last year because of my inexperience with 1st graders. I'm seasoned enough to know that I wasn't getting it 'quite right', but I persisted. My teammates were a huge support and willingly shared everything they had. And yet...most of the year I felt like a failure. 

And then, this year, I got bumped back to the Land of the Familiar. Fifth grade. Oh how I love this age group. I know them. I have loads of experience with them. I'm in my groove. 

But still, I see those kids I had last year. Every day. I think of them. I think of what I couldn't do for them...despite everything that I DID do for them. I've begged forgiveness of the second grade teachers. I'm sorry they don't have giant, thick folders of documented interventions and monitoring because they should. Honest to goodness I worked with those kids. 

It finally hit me as to why I didn't have those gloriously thick folders with beautiful paperwork. My Tier I instruction included just about every intervention that I could imagine to provide. Whole class. Small groups. One-on-one. Extended time. Extra everything. Floods of books on their levels. Physical breaks. Music. Preferential seating. Elkonin boxes. Phonics. Experiential learning. Pencil and paper. Art. Movement. Manipulatives. Flash cards. 

No wonder I was exhausted all the time. 

My point is...I hope that my peers won't tear me down. I hope that they understand that the lack of a paper trail does not equate a lack of interventions and work. I hope they show me the kind of understanding that I have failed to show my peers in the past.

The reality is that they will...or someone will...eventually question what I did all year. I've been that teacher. I've been the 4th grade teacher sifting through a file and tsk-ing over how previous teachers "didn't do anything to help this kid!". 

But now I know better. Thanks to my first graders. I know that sometimes teachers do everything they can to help. I know that teachers eat, sleep, and breathe for their students even if they don't write it down. Now I know why gossip is so horrible in the school building...I don't want to be the target of the maliciousness. 

As teachers we need to stand up for one another. Believe in each other and know that we're doing the best we can...even if there isn't a paper trail.