One of the disadvantages of working as an education consultant is the temptation to dwell in a world of theory. I once asked a school superintendent and superb conference speaker if he had ever considered committing to a full-time speaking circuit. He responded, “Absolutely not. I’d give myself six months to become completely irrelevant.” Ouch.
To fight against this idea of irrelevance, I value and welcome every possible opportunity to learn from the real teacher soldiers in our school trenches. Every workshop I present teaches me something about a teacher’s reality:
- A teacher who taught 6th grade mathematics last year and 7th and 8th grade social studies this year — the curse of the “highly qualified” teacher.
- A librarian who worked for years to build a strong open-schedule program only to be ordered to return to a fixed schedule as a “specials” teacher.
- A teacher hired at the last minute to ease the 40-students-per-class load of two grade levels.
- A teacher assigned to the inclusion class at her grade level, with seven severe needs kids and an aide added to her class.
- Several teachers who did not yet know their teaching assignments two weeks from the beginning of a school year.
Not every teacher’s reality is negative, but I am constantly reminded that every teacher encounters a unique set of challenges that can change vastly from year to year. In one recent workshop I met Native American teachers at a pueblo school, a teacher who was adjusting to what he perceived as huge differences in his students’ background knowledge from one state to the next, and a teacher who had dealt with a dangerous fight the previous day.
The young pre-service teachers in a workshop I did just yesterday were excited and a bit nervous, I think, about their upcoming practice teaching experiences. During my trip home, I wondered how much they really understood about the world of teaching they were about to enter. And yet, each one of them was present for a rather grueling 8-hour workshop during “Dead Week” — the week before final exams. That already says something about their resilience and commitment. They’re going to need it.
No matter who comes to my workshops about teaching with primary sources, I am grateful to each one for keeping my feet on the ground and for enriching my own professional life with their stories.