To My Teacher Friends: You’re Worthy

An outstanding teacher friend of mine went to an educator’s conference not that long ago and the presenter said, “If you aren’t doing (insert educational practice being pitched), you are committing educational malpractice.” My friend was a little taken aback. He’s a great teacher and here was an “expert” telling him that he was doing harm to his students.

A while back I wrote an article entitled “There is no silver bullet for education reform.” (   It seemed to me then, and it seems to me now, that schools are always hoping to find “the thing” that is going to “fix” our system. I actually think this desire comes with good intentions.   Administrators, teachers, and even “school reformers” want “results.” Of course, there is often little agreement on what “results” we should be striving for. Nevertheless, schools are constantly implementing new strategies and initiatives in order to “fix” our schools. If only it were that easy. There truly isn’t a “magic bullet” that will solve every challenge or meet the diverse needs of every school or every learner.

Among the consequences of this search for the latest and greatest in educational strategies is that teachers are feeling beaten down. How would it feel to have someone tell you that you are committing “malpractice” in your field?   I think teachers feel that they are being told they aren’t good enough a lot these days. Whether it comes from well-intentioned school leaders with a new initiative or legislators saying that our schools aren’t doing their jobs, teachers are feeling a lot of stress these days.

Here’s what I think; teachers are incredible. In a world of rapidly changing challenges, continually diminishing resources, salaries that don’t keep up with other professions, and an understanding that our work is critical for the future of our students, teachers are doing amazing things.   I have the great privilege of having a job where I get to support and observe teachers in all types of settings. I was in a kindergarten room the other day where a group of students were working in small groups to solve a problem involving moving water with just a few tools.   It was awesome to watch these young children working collaboratively to come up with a solution.   It wasn’t a matter of chance that they knew how to work as a team; they had been taught how to work together by a master teacher. I was in a special education room recently when a student had an outburst of frustration while trying to complete a task. The teacher immediately took the students hand, calmed her down, and helped her to finish the task at hand. I was awed by kindness and patience of the teacher. I was in a high school band room the other day where the students were playing professional level band music at an incredible level.   They were making very complex musical decisions in real time with each other.

So, if you’re a teacher who is doing all they can to be better every day, if you’re a teacher who wants their students to be better every day, and if you’re a teacher who wants their school to be better every day, you’re good enough.   While it is important to stay on top of the latest school improvement initiatives and to read the latest and greatest articles about teaching, it is also important to be the judge of what is best for your classroom.   No one knows their own situation better than a teacher in their own classroom. Don’t be afraid to try something new and make a mistake every now and then. Know that there isn’t a strategy in the world that works in every situation or for every student.

January and February are tough months for teachers. The students show up with every possible illness, we arrive in the dark and leave in the dark many days, there isn’t a break in our near future, there are papers and tests to grade, and there are meetings, so many meetings.   Please know that you are good enough and most importantly your students need you.

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