Oh, give me land, lots of land
Under starry skies above,
Dont fence me in"
~ Cole Porter (songwriter)
Two years ago, I was sitting in a meeting with my principal, a veteran educator of 35 years. We were discussing my outside work and my request for a part-time teaching assignment so I could continue to teach middle school and pursue outside leadership opportunities. My principal talked about a different breed of teacher that seemed to be emerging -- one who was restless and looking for new challenges outside the immediate teaching environment.
Karen" lamented the disappearance of career teachers, those who entered the profession and dedicated their life work exclusively to being a teacher practitioner. She observed that just when teachers become proficient and experienced, theyre off to conquer new horizons, often leaving the classroom for leadership pursuits. Gone was the classroom teacher who stuck with his or her craft for 35 years. She wondered how to go about keeping exemplary teachers in the classroom.
I've thought a lot about Karens observations since that meeting. Do todays classroom teachers have a shelf life? Is it possible that teacher "restlessness" is a natural consequence of embracing life-long learning? Could it be that being on a constant learning curve has altered the persona of our profession? How has the Internet contributed to that change?
Technology has made significant changes to how teachers think about themselves and what they do. The Web has introduced teachers and students alike to the notion that they have a voice worth sharing. Web logs, podcasts, listserves, collaborative communities, and teleconferencing have provided a space for us to reflect, share our expertise and meet other educators who are as passionate about teaching as we are.
There is a challenging side to professional growth, however. Along with growth can come a sense that you don't fit in the same teaching mold you did before. Professional growth can make you impatient with those who arent on the same learning journey you are. That disconnect sends many looking for answers and teaching communities better suited to their teaching beliefs and focus.
Psychologist, Albert Banduras social learning theory suggests that, along with personal and professional growth, comes self efficacy or internal confidence in ones ability to succeed. That has significant consequences for teachers who are "highly efficacious, act, think, and feel differently from those who perceive themselves as inefficacious. They produce their own future, rather than simply foretell it." Banduras research suggests that confident teachers are actually spurred along by watching and interacting with educators like themselves who succeed by increased effort. The result of that interaction "raises observers' beliefs that they too possess the capabilities to master comparable activities to succeed."
That point was an "ah-ha" moment for me. It shed some light on why collaborating with exemplary teachers via listserves and other online collaborative exchanges causes many teachers to think about their abilities differently, leading them to wonder if they too could make a significant contribution to their profession at large. That, of course has the potential to open a Pandoras Box, as teachers begin to look outside their classroom for ways to share their expertise and look for further growth opportunities.
So the question remains -- how can schools keep adventuresome teachers teaching? I wonder if the answer might be found in the sentiments of the old Cole Porter song, Dont Fence Me In. School districts and principals might be more successful in keeping exemplary teachers teaching by providing them with avenues to grow and spaces where they can exercise their leadership skills -- opportunities to teach students and contribute to their profession. Holding them back, failing to validate their skills and making them feel self-serving when they want to speak to a larger professional audience will only drive teachers away or make them resentful or dissatisfied.
Looking for ways to keep adventuresome teachers teaching might be one of the biggest breakthroughs, the schoolhouse can make.
Author: Brenda Dyck
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