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P.S. Let's Stop Talking Down to Each Other, Too - Education Impression

P.S. Let’s Stop Talking Down to Each Other, Too

Last Tuesday Richard Byrne, of Free Technology For Teachers fame, published an open letter on his blog regarding the way Ed Tech companies talk down to teachers, especially during product pitches and educational sessions. In his essay, he explains that when companies assume that we know nothing, will work for a pittance, and are not experts in our field, it destroys the very credibility they trying to build. I agree wholeheartedly! Hallelujah and amen! I’d like to take his ideas one step further by suggesting that in working with our colleagues, we also stop talking down to and about them. I would offer a few reasons why we should do this.

I’m sure it’s the optimist in me – my son describes me as extraordinarily optimistic for no particular reason – but I believe that teachers make the choices they make in the classroom because they want to do what is best for students. Sure, there are a few who have cashed in their chips and are making hashmarks until they can exit, but the vast majority of teachers seem to be teaching from a place of what is best for kids. Of course, we may not all agree about what this “best for kids” looks like, but as far as intentions go, we all start from a place that’s well beyond “first, do no harm.” If that’s the case, if teachers have made deliberate choices about how to teach their content, we need to respect and understand the choices before we start suggesting that practices are outdated or ineffective.

There are teachers in every building who people have written off. Likewise, there are students in those teachers classrooms who those teachers are reaching like no one else can. When I got my first teaching job, I had a desk opposite the most senior chemistry teacher in my building. He was a gentleman and a scholar, a real Mr Chips type, a very different teacher from young, loud, green me. I thought I had everything figured out twenty years ago, so I was certain that in the classroom he was boring and stodgy, that his ninety minute lectures were lullabies, that his students made hashmarks to mark time until their exit. Then, one day toward the end of the year, I found myself in the main office with a few extra minutes on my hands, standing next to the box of teacher of the year nominations written by students.  For fun, I started reading some of them. I don’t remember if there was one in the box for me; the one I remember was written about him. It was a beautiful letter outlining all the passion and wonder this student felt for chemistry because of the ninety minute lectures delivered like expertly-told stories by my colleague. In the four years I worked there, I never watched him teach. I regret that now that he is retired. I am certain I could have learned a great deal. 

One of the wisest things I ever heard a colleague say was this: “When it comes to professional development, if something is worth a teacher’s time to learn, you don’t have to force them to go to PD about it. They will see other teachers doing it and they will beg to learn more about it.” The power of modeling vs. degrading by chronic criticism is always obvious to me during the summer. The best part of summer vacation for me is spending time with my children, without the daily distractions and demands of teaching. Spending all this time with them, though, has highlighted the amount of parenting they do to each other. They nag each other constantly with a chorus of “the rules.” I try to remind them that they will be parents someday themselves, that that is a hard job and they should enjoy being kids without the drag of constantly correcting behavior. As teachers, we should definitely model best practices and willingly share our successes (and failures!), but we should resist administering. Our job is already hard enough.

Finally, and most importantly, if lessons begin with “here is everything we think you’re doing wrong” or “this is the technology we’ll use to fix the mess you’ve made in your classroom,” why would anyone feel motivated to get past the hurt and resentment those statements bring to conquer the fear or anxiety of trying something new? With our students, we don’t start from a place of “you’re in this class because you have been such a disaster” (at least, I hope we don’t), so why do we send that message to colleagues?

With teachers under attack at every turn, we need each other now more than ever. Byrne said, “when you do well, we all do well” and never was this more true than in our current environment of merit pay and standardized test scores. Let’s support each other and learn with each other so we all succeed together.

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