By Mark Heintz
As the holiday season winds down, I find myself thinking about the conversations I had over the past few months. The holiday season is when I have time to catch up with family and old friends. Often, there are new people I meet, and once they find out I am a teacher, they share their own experiences with education. Many are positive, and they share memories of great teachers and coaches that impacted them. But, often they talk about the state of education and how it is worsening. They share stories of ineffective teachers and how they wished they would have gotten more out of their time at school.
My response is to compare schools to television. I tell them to look at the typical T.V. series and how many people are involved in the development process. They have writers, directors, producers, costume designers, actors, actresses, acting coaches, set designers, special effects specialists, advertisers and the list goes on. Each person works together to create a single series. The typical series is comprised of about twenty-four episodes and targets a specific audience. Despite all of the people involved, over 50% of new T.V. series fail. All of the collaboration with trained professionals with typically a budget of millions of dollars, and they still fail. Now, I understand they fail for a variety of reasons that are often not at the fault of the people involved in the making, but the point remains that they fail.
I then compare the television industry to teaching. It is not a direct comparison, but I watch a lot of T.V. and am a teacher, so I talk, and now write, about what I know. I tell them a teacher typically plays all the roles in the developmental process of a television series. As teachers, we are writers, directors, producers, costume designers, actors/actresses, coaches, set designers, special effects specialists, advertisers and the list goes on. We deliver around 180 "shows" a year to an audience that is compelled by law to attend. The audience at the high school level is hormonal, developing their identity, self-centered, sleep deprived, and not always wanting to be there. They cannot simply pause the show or set their DVR to come back to it when they are ready. The audience can criticize or praise you to your face as the lesson progresses. Even if a student is hungry, going through a crisis, ....they are there to learn.
I make the comparison not to wallow in self-pity or showcase how great I am or all teachers are. I make it to show people's memories or understanding of their educational experiences might not be the clearest. They might have been going through something at the time they were learning and just because they cannot remember every detail from history or whatever subject, does not mean they did not grow in the skill development or as a human being. I also point out that education is in the pursuit of educating everyone. I feel every year we, as educators, get better at that pursuit.
As I reflect on the conversations, I see the need for teachers to collaborate with one another. Also, we need to collaborate to develop new teachers. We need to foster their spirit and skills so they can continue in the educational pursuit of every one. We need to collaborate to share current research and best practices. We need to work together to ensure we do not feel isolated with our daily problems. Bottom line, we need to collaborate with one another. It helps us grow as an institution and to help the public understand what we do in the classroom and the school. Working together helps all students feel welcome and can foster their individual needs in a classroom of many. It helps lessen the load of teachers, so they can spend time giving feedback, support and better instruction to students. It helps the community as a whole become better.