One of the most frustrating experiences for new teachers is to arrive at a new school bubbling over with ideas for student-centered teaching, only to be faced with a wall of resistance to doing anything at all new or different.
Staff meetings can be particularly difficult; when the various cliques are gathered in one spot, they tend to find strength in numbers. Cliques within a building can form around grade levels, tenure or even the particular floor of the building, but whatever the basis, they can form strong impediments to a new teacher's ideas if they are not open to trying new things.
Let's take an example. The topic of discussion is test preparation...implementing best teaching practices to give kids the best chance of success on standardized testing in the spring. You've been in the building long enough to understand what the staff is doing and what they aren't doing and you immediately see a great opportunity to suggest some techniques you saw while you were student teaching:
"I've got something worth considering that I experiences at Johnson Elementary. It was definitely a student-centered teaching approach and I saw it work for some of the lower performers there. In fact, I helped implement it. Here's what we did..."
And the response, in all too many situations?
Verbally, you are likely to hear:
"We did that a few years ago and it never worked out."
Never mind that the staff is 50% new since then and the neighborhood has changed.
"Our plates are pretty full already."
Translation: We weren't really looking for ideas that involve extra work.
"I don't think you understand what kind of home life these kids have."
This generic excuse is an often-used misdirection to squash a lot of innovations...saying that the school's clientele and approach to parenting is so different from all other schools that nothing can succeed. Student-centered teaching is not built on such an attitude, and best teaching practices demand that we don't use our student's families as a one-size-fits-all excuse.
Or any number of other comebacks, possibly including consignment of your idea to the black hole of putting on the list of "things to consider in the future."
For a new teacher who may already be a little uncertain of her skills, uncertain of her grasp on building relationships and possibly not yet on a continuing contract, it can be very difficult to continue to argue for changes in the fact of these responses.
Before I point out why you must keep pushing, let's examine what is happening from the human perspective.
A new person at any company in existence could tell of a similar exchange to the one outlined above; the field of education is simply not unique in that regard. In fact, nearly any member of a family could outline an almost identical scenario!
People with strong opinions will state them strongly, and people who state things strongly often have an overly large amount of influence within groups who are usually willing to follow the leader of the pack (even if the leader is an informal one). And very often, the first response of the leader of the pack is:
"I don't like to change things...because I didn't come up with the idea...or because change is difficult and I just don't want to do it."
So...what is a brand new teacher supposed to do? Throw in the towel and back off? Absolutely not. What is needed here is some informal, self-directed teacher professional development.
TIP: Change is not always better and sometimes new people truly don't understand the situation. Push for details until you do understand, then push for your position.
Pushing for even incremental changes to move toward more student-centered teaching is your obligation if there is a chance it can improve the success of your students. Your kids are just as important as all the rest of the kids in the building. You may not yet have all the experience of the older teachers, but you ideas regarding best teaching practices are just as worthy of a full hearing and discussion.
If you need to say something...then say it.
Fear should never keep us from speaking up for children.
Wouldn't it be great if every school placed a large sign in their meeting room that said:
"Everything teachers do must be for the benefit of children."
And under that sign should hang another one that says:
"We must teach to the children's future, not our past."
The point is that any group of professionals who care about improving outcomes through student-centered teaching should always be willing to rock the boat a little and question even established processes. Testing alternatives is always a good idea, if only to rule them out as a long-term solution to a problem.
As a new teacher, toughen up a little bit...be willing to take a few of those verbal punches and roll with them. Don't give in easily...ask questions:
That last one is particularly pertinent in our testing-oriented world...just be warned that it drives people who like "gut feelings" crazy! (That's why I like to use it!)
You should never expect that you'll always get your own way, because in reality you shouldn't. Others can and should certainly question your ideas, too...that's how ideas for student-centered teaching get better.
But don't be afraid of getting a reputation for speaking your mind on behalf of students through pushing the envelope on best teaching practices. Make professional courage a part of your image and you'll ultimately gain the respect of your peers.
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