On Getting Better At Your Craft

Jose VilsonEducation, Resources4 Comments

Detroit Classroom

This year, I decided I was going to focus more intently on developing lesson plans day-to-day. To be honest, I lost a bit of that, thinking that developing plans by units would be substantive enough to get through to my students and through my curriculum. I was approaching “getting better” by concentrating on getting better at developing units (something I had never done before), but then I was losing sight of the day-to-day. Having a lesson plan every day, or at least 90% of the time, makes a world of difference in classroom management as well as delivery of the lesson. That sounds obvious for the great teacher, but … I’m not great yet.

My flaws are innumerable, and I blame myself first and foremost for things that happen in my classroom, even after I’ve admitted that there’s always that 10% that I may not reach for one reason or another. I’m glad that I believe I’m at least a good teacher. I’m strong in my content area. I do well with lesson flow. I ask critical questions. My rapport with the kids is pretty solid. I work collaboratively with my fellow teachers on all types of classroom materials. Plus, being the math coach, I get the opportunity to learn more than my full-time classroom compatriots do … because I’m learning from them.

But am I great? I don’t think so yet. My feedback to students needs to grow. I could slow things down some, and I let students get derailed too often for a solid classroom discussion on problems. I’m still wondering if I ought to give some homework or no homework at all. I might need to use more real-world applications in my classroom, and I need to integrate more technology since I don’t really use much of it except for my gradebook. I would like to sit down longer with my students and individually to clarify their thinking.

That’s part of my growth, and, as I reflect, I understand that. I don’t need an evaluation system that tells me these things. Some do. Can that discussion happen if, in the midst of trying to get better, we’re asked to be perfect from day one? How do we expect to become more proficient or excellent if we’re put under procrustean pressures on a local, state, and federal level? If a little less than half of the teachers we know now leave before they’re considered expert teachers, how do we expect teachers to ever get better? Our education system is in need of a serious makeover that the word “reform” can’t capture well.

The story here isn’t about the small percentage of teachers we consider “bad” versus “good” because the duality of bad and good contains multitudes. It’s more that, irrespective of whether we’re bad or good,we’re still in need of growth. We genuinely want to get better, but, in too many environments, we get lost in the minutiae, so we’d rather focus on classroom management and behavior strategies than our pedagogy. You don’t need to incentivize that for me.

The incentive stares us back in the face every day. Just treat us like professionals. Flawed and all.

Mr. Vilson, who came to the strong realization tonight that Eduwonkette might never come back …

Comments 4

  1. The thing is, we don’t need Gates telling what makes a good teacher. Self-reflection is half the battle.
    I know when I have a difficult class, planning lessons to the minute is helpful even if you are an experienced teacher.

    In successful schools, teachers are given the time to reflect. Instead of forcing teachers to endure senseless PD or go through the Danielson method, teachers should be given the time to collaborate on what could be improved, tweaked, changed, etc. We should learn from each other–not some outsider who hasn’t seen the inside of a classroom for ages or other organizations sponsored by the Billionaires Club.

    When we are FORCED to follow a particular mode of instruction, we should have the power to close our classroom doors and adapt the best parts of that program and trash the parts that are not working. Teaching is an art that changes with each class we encounter. What works well with one group of students may not work for another group. The powers that be refuse to understand that what we do is forever evolving and to pigeon hole us will not make us better teachers.

  2. Jose,
    I have been a teacher for over 30 years and a student of my craft just as long. I am constantly working to improve my skills. I very seldom attach good to my title because I feel that my work will speak for itself.

    A true teacher can work even when the plan on paper is not present or as well organized as it should be. I think that if I came and obseved you at work, I’d be looking at a true teacher. That’s the type of teacher who has the ability to connect and work with the students with much nia (purpose).

  3. Hi Jose,

    So much of my work with my resident teachers centers around the importance of daily planning. My mentor teachers and I really put them through the paces of revising plans with eye for what they will say to students exactly, how materials will be managed, how much time will be spent on each lesson segment (pacing), etc. This can seem overwhelming for a new teacher, but I ask them to trust us. Over time, they begin to see the difference in their teaching (and the students) when they are well-planned and when they are not. Thanks for this-I will be sure to share with them!

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