Education Week - March 30, 2016 - (Page 21)
limits our definition-as well as our experience-of happiness. He gives an example:
A mountain climber scaling a cliff may not
like her cramped muscles, but she feels a
satisfaction that transcends liking. I may
not like my brain turning into a papier-mâché pulp after teaching, but I feel satisfied
when I teach well.
So, the next time a student says, "I hate
school," I'll agree. I hate school the way
the writer hates working on a complicated
plot for three hours, or the way the athlete
hates getting up at 4 a.m. to run 10 miles.
But when my students and I struggle
through a long essay and find the perfect
words to express ourselves, we feel accomplished in a way that is greater than painless joys. We feel gratified in a way that
transcends "like" and "hate."
"Great speech, Mr. O," I can hear that
student say. "But you didn't say anything
about why we go to school or why you
I imagine the entire class leaning in as
I stare back and wish a greater purpose
would fly through the window. I would tell
my students that when we learn about the
world, we grow. We better understand our
lives and the lives of others. As we get a
better sense of how things work, the world
becomes a little less cloudy. We learn to become better people.
If we truly wanted to
attract, retain, and
support the best and
brightest principals, we
would focus on making
their jobs more doable."
and make even the principals of high-performing schools feel like targets.
If, as seems likely, these trends continue,
principals will need all the stress relief they
can get. Sadly, they seem to be availing
themselves of this less. State associations
of principals and other professional organizations report that attendance at their
conferences is declining. Principals feel too
harried to take time away, to devote themselves to precisely what they need: renewal.
Stress is almost always intensified by isolation, and almost always reduced by connection and support. This is especially true
when one has little control over the sources
of stress. Connection and support are not
just niceties: They are life-sustaining and
In Dublin, the Guinness, the socializing,
and the singing weren't responses to Riley's
findings, but they certainly made sense in
light of those findings. So long as American
principals remain under siege, they would
do well to get their Irish on. n
ROBERT EVANS, a psychologist and school
consultant, is the executive director of the Human
Relations Service in Wellesley, Mass. He can be
reached at www.robevans.org.
When I was in high school, my life was
chaotic. My history teacher, Mr. Karpluk,
would call my house in the morning to
wake me up for school. When I arrived, he
would walk me to the sports fields to ask
how I was. He cared for me at a time when
few people did. So I have another purpose:
I want to be Mr. Karpluk for my students.
I want them to feel like they matter, and I
want them to remember that feeling.
At the end of the day, I still feel like a
used piñata, but my students can't fix that.
I can't expect them to inspire me. Isn't it
my job to inspire them? I try to do so 180
days a year, and it exhausts me.
Although this may sound too simple,
taking a walk is the best antidote. When a
stack of papers sits on my desk, I walk out
of my classroom and clear my thoughts of
writing assignments and literary passages.
I explore the parts of the school I rarely
see: the music rooms where students sing,
the woodshop where the smell of cut wood
fills the hallway, the cacophonous cafeteria. I feel uplifted seeing my students in
the world outside my classroom. I return
energized and ready to teach-whether I
like it or not. n
PATRICK O'CONNOR is a high school English
teacher in Massachusetts. He is a freelance
journalist and a writer of fiction and poetry.
Finding Joy in Teaching
By Jonathan Eckert
teach to entertain myself.
For the past 20 years, I have
shared this key to quality
instruction with elementary
through college students.
They all look at me like I
am a bit egocentric and a little crazy. I don't think I am.
My own entertainment is only one
ingredient of the whole recipe for a
productive learning environment.
But if I am not enjoying teaching,
student learning will suffer. If I am
bored, burned out, or beaten down, it
is highly unlikely that my students
will engage in vibrant learning. This
is true for assessment, content, and
classroom management-the three
cornerstones of quality instruction.
One way to judge the quality of an
assessment is: Do I want to grade it?
If I get tired of assessing essays that
try to persuade the principal to say
no to school uniforms, I change the
assessment. If I can't bear to read another policy memo about a particular
topic, I change the syllabus. If I do not
enjoy assessing the assignment, my
students rarely enjoy completing it.
The quality of the work suffers.
What about teaching the same
content day after day? I taught four
sections of science to 7th graders for
years. Photosynthesis, cellular respiration, and asexual reproduction
were not what got me out of bed in
the morning. The key for me was to
focus on how 100 different individuals
interacted with the concepts during
the labs. Suddenly, asexual reproduction became fascinating when I heard
students trying to make sense of it.
"How can a potato get jiggy under the
ground?" one student asked.
Classroom management also has
to remain fresh. I posted a magnetic
Elvis Presley replete with an extensive wardrobe on the front board of my
5th grade classroom. If the class got
too loud, I would remove, for example,
Elvis' Hawaiian lei. This equaled one
less minute of recess. A lei and the removal of his sunglasses equaled three
fewer minutes, and so on. The students
could earn these items back for quality
work. At the end of the week, if Elvis
was dressed like "the King," we had 15
minutes of recess. Eventually, I only
had to take a couple steps toward Elvis
to quiet the classroom.
Admittedly, some of my techniques
are a bit quirky, but that is the point. We
should engage students in ways that we
enjoy-a teacher's enjoyment is a precondition for student engagement.
Teaching morale has declined over
the past two decades. Promised K-12
improvements, meanwhile, have included increased rigor, more testing,
and "teacher proofing" a narrowing
curriculum. Many of these changes
have taken the joy out of the classroom
because teachers have lost control of
what is taught, when it's taught, and
how it's assessed.
This situation should not come as
a revelation to anyone who has stood
in front of students recently. In the
schools I visit across the country, I hear
a common refrain: "Teaching isn't fun
4. I don't feel guilty about missing school
for my own professional growth.
5. I take my full vacation and don't work
6. Most weeks I receive at least one professional compliment.
7. Someone above me cares about my development.
8. Each day I get to do what I'm best at
and care most about.
The best score is 8-the worst, 40. As I ask
the questions, uneasy laughter builds. As people total their results, which tend to cluster
in the 30s, the room grows quiet. Invariably,
some principals won't reveal their scores.
Needless to say, this questionnaire is
not scientific. Its purpose is to dramatize
a point: The pressures and expectations
placed on principals are increasingly untenable. If we truly wanted to attract, retain,
and support the best and brightest principals, we would focus on making their jobs
In this regard, the last two items in my
questionnaire have a specific source. As
Brandon Busteed, the executive director
of Gallup Education, has reported in these
pages, voluminous research shows that the
two key elements for success in work and
life are "having someone who cares about
your development and having an opportunity to do what you do best every day."
This is especially true, he argues, for
students and teachers-and, I would add,
for principals. Rather than concentrate on
correcting weaknesses, Busteed says, "the
most successful people focus primarily on
building on what they're naturally good at
and turning those talents into strengths."
This finding appears repeatedly in the
management literature-and is just as
repeatedly ignored by policymakers and
regulators, who continue to foster initiative
fatigue, fixate on deficits in schools' performance, dismiss the crucial impact of negative out-of-school influences on students,
A teacher's enjoyment
is a precondition for
anymore." This is a tragedy for all of us.
The only way to build better learning environments is through trust. I
still find classrooms where trust exists, but they are becoming increasingly rare. A fear of testing, failure,
and loss of control is now the norm.
We know that safe learning environments are essential for students, but
they must first exist for teachers.
School improvement has to start at
the classroom level. The implementation of the Every Student Succeeds
Act could create more-supportive
teaching conditions. States and
districts could reconsider accountability policies that erode trust and
support. Instead, they could support
professional learning that promotes
expertise and differentiated roles for
teachers. However, our work is more
human than many policymakers
grasp. And so teachers and administrators must lead the way in prioritizing learning that embraces risk, inquiry, and hard work.
Principals and teachers need to take
back their schools, so teachers can take
back their classrooms. Teachers and
principals must be fearless. Teachers
have to stop blaming others-principals, district offices, and departments
of education-for what they "have to
do" in their classrooms. Great teachers find what works for them and their
students, and they run with it. They
beg, borrow, and steal ideas and then
make them their own. They find their
own versions of a magnetic Elvis and
take a risk.
This is the only way to grow.
Many veteran teachers repeat the
following mantra to their students: "I
am not here to entertain you." Maybe
teachers should start telling themselves, "I am here to be entertained by
my students' learning." If teachers find
enjoyment in their students' learning
and growth, they will never stop learning and growing themselves. n
JONATHAN ECKERT is an associate professor
of education at Wheaton College in Illinois.
He is the author of The Novice Advantage:
Fearless Practice for Every Teacher (Corwin
EDUCATION WEEK | March 30, 2016 | www.edweek.org/go/commentary | 21
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - March 30, 2016
Education Week - March 30, 2016
State Boards Feel New Need To Flex Muscles
Distress Call Issued On K-12 Facilities
Can ‘Micro-Credentialing’ Salvage Teacher PD?
Sanders Gets Educators’ Attention Despite Limited Specifics on K-12
Table of Contents
DAVID GAMBERG: What Makes a School?
News in Brief
Common Core: Is Its Achievement Impact Starting To Dissipate?
ACT’s New 10th Grade Test Provides Competition for PSAT
N.C. Law Restricts Transgender Student Restroom Access
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Group Probes Ed-Tech Pricing, Buying
Home Schooling Gains Popularity With Military Families
Blogs of the Week
‘Teach to Lead’ Projects Face Uphill Climb at State Level
Hearing Weighs Student-Data Privacy Concerns
High Court Weighing Birth-Control Mandate
ESSA Rule Negotiators Grapple With Issues of Flexibility, Equity
ROBERT EVANS: Principals, Get Your Irish On
PATRICK O’CONNOR: Why Good Teachers Don’t Have to ‘Like’ Teaching
JONATHAN ECKERT: Finding Joy in Teaching
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Education Week - March 30, 2016