By Pat Byrne November 19, 2012 10:37 am
I’m in the middle of my ninth year teaching, and all nine years have been at Wheaton Woods Elementary School in Rockville, MD. I’ve taught 4th grade general ed; 1st, 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade accelerated math; 1st and 4th grade summer school; and a 4th/5th combination general ed class (this is what I’m teaching now).
Teaching had always appealed to me growing up. Even though I grew up in a military family and was constantly moving, I had several incredibly positive and effective teachers that enhanced my already positive attitude towards school. I had teachers that truly cared and helped me gain confidence in my ability to succeed socially and academically even though it seemed like I was always the new kid. I suppose I really knew I wanted to be a teacher after my freshman year at Maryland; I had a summer job as a camp counselor in Frederick where I was the senior leader of a park with over 150 kids from 6 to 14 years old. I had an amazing experience (and realized I could handle working with kids!), and decided to switch my major when I went back for the fall (even though the delay required an extra year of school!).
Looking back, before my first day in the classroom I think what I perceived as the biggest challenge was making sure I was effectively prepared to be a good teacher. I wanted to make sure I was planned and prepped so that I could focus on my students and making sure I could provide what they needed. It seemed like such a hectic time, I wanted to be perfect all the way around! I suppose this has changed; I’ve learned to be able to budget my time better and focus on what is most important. It seems like each day there are so many variables that distract from my main focus which is teaching my students.When I began teaching, being in front of my students was the part of my job that made me the most nervous. Now, being front of my students is when I’m most confident.
Priorities related to teaching are constantly shifting since policies, curriculum, grading standards, committees, meetings, etc. are all constantly shifting. It seems as soon as a program is adopted and I feel confident with it, it changes as a new program rolls down the line. There are constant, demanding requirements that don’t always have the students as the main focus. It can be tough to keep up and easy to forget that our top priority is and should always be our students. At times things can get so hectic and distracting that I actually have to remind myself that I am working with children and that they are my students, they are not co-workers or colleagues.
The most pressing issue in education, at least for me, is the lack of consistent leadership at the administrative level (which is directly related to shifting, unpredictable policies). In my 8 plus years I have had 4 principals, including 3 in the past 3 years. At times it feels as if I am being punished or neglected because of the fact that I teach at a Title I school and choose to remain working at a Title I school. I feel I am good at what I do and therefore should be working with the neediest students, who, typically, attend the poorest schools like mine. There needs to be some sort of incentive program to recruit and maintain strong, effective teachers and administrators to lower income schools. It is extremely frustrating to feel like our school is one where people go only to get noticed or a place to put on their resume before moving on to a ‘better school’. If I could change one thing, that would be it. Poorer and less served schools need the best teachers. A friend of mine left our school to take a job as a staff developer at a public school in a MUCH more affluent area of the county but said teachers at Wheaton Woods could literally teach circles around the ones at her ‘better’ school. If this is true, there needs to be some way to keep it that way. Poorer, needier schools need to have some effective leverage to keep their most effective leaders and teachers. I am part of a staff that cares deeply about their students and making sure they are providing the care and attention to create strong leaders and citizens of the future, but this commitment is constantly shaken when changing policies and staffing decisions lead us to believe that we’re being taking advantage of. It is not a way to create a positive and consistent educational environment.