Professional Learning

Why I’m Jealous of Teach for America Teachers

October 29, 2009

I don't mean to whine, but I'm feeling neglected. For all my questions about the eventual impact on education with Teach for America, I find myself a little pouty that TFA teachers get all this professional development, and I don't.

I feel like I did when I realized that MTV was no longer shooting for my business as its prime demographic. Somehow, according to outside sources, I have outgrown the need for support as a teacher and am too experienced to need further training.

But we all know that teaching is about continuous support: getting it, giving it, finding it, and sharing it. How is it that there has become this clique of new teachers rich in support, while the rest of us scramble for minutes to collaborate while we figure out how to do our job, a job that redefines itself year after year?

Four years ago, my academic department and I had a common preparatory period. According to the counselors, this was playing havoc with the master schedule, but everyone understood its worth and made it happen. Many of us sat down together daily during this time to plan, share, problem solve, and strategize.

We used data to tell us what was working. From that, we could see clearly who was having success teaching a particular skill and ask that person for help in our own lesson planning. We could jigsaw our planning, so that one teacher developed one unit while another teacher was responsible for developing another. We supplemented each other's curriculum, bringing in ideas and advice about what worked. We shared what didn't work so that others could learn from our mistakes.

It was bliss, and it was effective.

Then the school voted for a "collaboration day" -- one day a month of early student dismissal that would allow for an entire community of collaboration. The thought was that everyone could meet for the single day -- three hours a month -- and do what our department was already doing for 45 minutes daily.

The staff voted, and it passed. Unfortunately, this caused our English Department common planning time to dissolve. Yet with a Pollyanna-ish sense of optimism, we accepted this all in the name of a common, collaborative community.

Cue deep sigh. Collaboration was not meant to be. These early-dismissal days became ones of great directives from the powers that be. The school district needed departments to analyze this. The state needed us to give evidence of doing that. We were even given directives of what to discuss in order to justify the early-dismissal collaboration days.

In other words, our collaboration days became filled up not with teacher-designed agendas but with gathering evidence of our collaboration.

And then, if a teacher taught more than one subject, they had to split their time between two departments. And then our department meetings began being folded into this time. And, finally, our precious collaboration time drifted off into nothingness.

Until my department discovered that there was one place we could collaborate daily once again: the john.

That's right. The bathroom. It's become our go-to place for quick, on-the-fly curriculum design, development, and support. A teacher, holding court about the lesson they just tried mere minutes ago, shares what worked and what didn't. Then she exits the stall, giving it to the next member of the department, who then asks questions about the lesson as the first teacher washes her hands. The next teacher comes out of the stall, and there is a sharing of advice and tweaking of the lesson over the supportive sounds of the hand dryer.

If a teacher's lucky, there's been time for an exchange of innovative ideas. But, of course, we only have four-minute passing periods, so we don't have a lot of time to do any kind of business, much less curriculum development.

So, yeah, I'm a little jealous of Teach For America.

Now, I'm not saying I want to be a new teacher ever again. It was like being a teenager, sans the awkward school dances: tears, laughter, highs, lows, and painful learning. They were formative years of struggle that I wouldn't wish on anyone.

No, I certainly don't want to go back there, but I am jealous of the support that exists for the newbies -- not because I didn't have it then, but because I don't have it now.

How do you and your colleagues find time to collaborate? What creative measures do you take to make planning happen? We'd love to hear your ideas.

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  • English Language Arts

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