Sunday, March 28, 2010

Shades of Teaching

I first heard the word "hybrid" in biology class in tenth grade. For some reason, there is a pea in my memory that has two different hues of green. But have I ever heard of a "hybrid pea"? Maybe hybrid corn? And more recently...hybrid car?

But as an educator I never thought about a hybrid position, until this year, when I was assigned to do two jobs at once. Back to that later...

The Metlife Survey of the American Teacher: Collaborating for Student Success has released the third part, "Teaching as a Career." In it, more than half of the teachers (56%) surveyed and half of the principals (49%) report that teachers in their schools combine part-time classroom teaching with other roles in their school or district and four in ten teachers say they are interested in such a position. Hybrid teaching roles are particularly appealing to new teachers (46%) and those who are less than satisfied with their current careers (42%).

I have been a strong advocate for looking at schools differently. We need to think about scheduling, grading, and school calendars in a way that doesn't replicate the past one hundred years of public school. In the same way, we need to look at teaching in ways that capitalize on the strengths of our educators without overburdening them with too many duties. Here are my thoughts on hybrid positions in education:

On the positive side, any job in education, from the school custodian to the superintendent, would be more meaningful if part of the day is spent with kids. Plain and simple. They're the reason we're all there, and they make it worth the long hours. Spending time in a classroom of students also is the best way to maintain credibility with other educators. How many times have we heard teachers say that Central Office staff members don't "get it" because they aren't in a classroom? In addition to credibility, being in a classroom also is important so that the educator's views are authentic and not based on what they remember about teaching or hear from colleagues.

At the same time, hybrid roles can be difficult. Take mine, for example. I am currently the Literacy Coach for my school and the Beginning Teacher Mentor for my district. Suffice it to say that my two 50% jobs are really two 100% (or more) jobs and that I feel that neither the teachers I should be coaching nor the teachers I should be mentoring are being served as they should. Luckily, my administrators are eager to look at ways to make my "jobs" more doable next year.

A common mistake I see when hybrid roles are developed occurs when teachers are pulled to do administrative/Central Office-type jobs but are paid teacher salaries. I have seen numerous "teacher-on-loan" style positions where the work is overwhelming, but the pay isn't higher. Educators must be compensated for the work they do as professionals, and school districts need to resist the urge to get "cheap help" from teachers they can pull from classrooms.

As for my job... it's true, my roles do utilize two of my passions - literacy and beginning teacher support; so in that way, it's perfect for me. That's what we should focus on when it comes to hybrid positions: begin by looking at educator strengths....then continue by planning a schedule that's feasible and capitalizes on what's best for kids. And the finishing touch is a salary that's commensurate with the work.

It should be like that pea - different shades...but still a pea.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Realizing Dreams

My Daddy was a hard working man. He was also brilliant when it came to ideas that required common sense. (My mother always said he could hold an entire Chevrolet engine together with electrical tape.) He was no academian, though, and was actually a junior high school dropout. I remember every year I would take home the Student Data Sheet that my mother would complete on the first day of school. It always had a category for "highest education of parents." My mother would check "associate's degree" for herself and whatever random school year she would decide on for my Daddy. Sometimes she'd check 11th grade, sometimes another one, but she knew better than to check the box beside "high school graduate."

It wasn't until one of Daddy's many hospital stays on the cancer floor of Duke University Medical Center that we finally learned the truth. The nurse methodically asked each question on the patient intake form, and when she got to "highest level of education," my very sick father answered, "Seventh."

Had I not been so concerned over his health and totally committed to his care, I may have fallen out the door of that extremely small hospital room. Seventh grade. The very ages of the students I was teaching that year! I imagined my students, any one of them, being on their own at that moment. It was beyond imagination.

I've heard romanticized stories of my Daddy having to drop out of school to help support the family (not unheard of back in the 1940's), riding on the back of a milk truck, delivering milk to rural North Carolina. However, truth be told, I bet my Daddy left that junior high hooping and hollering, happy to be away from the requirements of school work.

I have more than one memory of Daddy handing me the newspaper and asking me a word or two. I tell my reading students about him, about how he worked hard to compensate for what he didn't have in book smarts, and how surprised I am that I grew up loving to read and write.

But I didn't grow up with an extensive vocabulary or skill in writing technique - I've tried to pick up a few things along the way to my master's degree. That's why today, when my book hit the shelf at Barnes and Noble, it was a special type of dream come true.

From my first essay (on the Vietnam War) that won an honorable mention when I was, myself, in seventh the personal writing I share with my students, including lamentations over my father's this blog, I have always loved to write as a way to express my feelings...but I'm no J.K. Rowling. What I do is write what I know, stories about my students, my family, and me...topics that don't require too much imagination because I lived them.

So it'll definitely be a dream come true when I see my book on that shelf. It's a long way from that seventh grade essay...