The Mean Teacher

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Remember those middle and high school days when you accidentally caught the “Mean Girls” whispering behind your back while they thought you weren’t present?  Or people made fun of you, because you were the “overachiever” in school?  Or maybe you were the “most artistic” or “most athletic?”  Most adolescents don’t recognize jealousy and lack the wisdom and emotional security to rationalize through these awkward and painful situations.  However, as we grow older and mature, adults grasp a better understanding of the reasons behind adolescent malicious gossip, social hierarchy, and “Mean Girl” thinking.  One of the main reasons is adolescent insecurity.  As adolescents slowly mature into adults, their emotional banks are filled with more positive experiences to fill holes in their insecurities.  However, even as adults, we unfortunately haven’t resolved all our insecurities.  The “Mean Teacher” exists.

In the educational field, one would hope that adults, especially teachers would foster an environment of peace, collaboration, and cooperation…right???   We all know as teachers that we like to pretend that we are the perfect models of appropriate behavior, but the truth is that we struggle just as much with professional insecurity.  At times, we are the “Mean Teacher.”  Think about these scenarios for example:

1.  In a faculty meeting, the principal singles out one or two teachers who have done a fabulous job on an after-school family event.  The principal sings praises of the teacher, and instead of wanting to clap for those teachers, you want to scream “brown-noser!”  You and a few teachers may even gossip about those teachers behind their backs calling those teachers names…yep, even teachers.

2.  After standardized test scores are posted or the “data wall” goes up, you immediately look at the other teachers’ scores to analyze whether or not you or your grade level has the best scores – admit it.  When you or your grade level doesn’t have the highest scores, you start to discredit a teacher or grade level’s scores by discussing their classroom weaknesses.

3.  In parent conferences or “unofficial meetings” at the store, parents rant and rave about their child’s previous teacher.  You start to find yourself indirectly talking negative about the previous year’s teacher by discussing how the teacher didn’t adequately prepare their child for the current grade level.

Now, some of these scenarios may be exaggerated slightly, but they do happen.  WHY??  As educators, we should be the MOST confident and MOST secure in our positions as professionals.  We have the BEST job in the world, and our job is the MOST important!!  Why are we so mean sometimes????

There are several reasons why our profession can be competitive, vicious, and not collaborative.  First, our nation doesn’t pride itself on its teachers.  If you even glance at your Facebook or Twitter Newsfeed for the day, there is at least one meme, post, blog, or news article that slams a teacher.  Didn’t you know that the reason American kids can’t read, write, and do arithmetic is because of public school teachers?  Not to mention those Common Core Standards are the devil in disguise!

Next, our nation’s educational system places too much emphasis on data.  Data is a wonderful tool to drive instruction, and I think it should be used in the classroom for reflection and growth.  However, when schools display each grade level and each teacher’s data for everyone to see and then encourage discussion on “What is wrong with this data?” it facilitates an environment of competition and insecurity.

Last, schools don’t take the time to build an environment of friendships!  Teachers don’t even need to best BFFs, but they need to make connections and create bonds with one another.  When teachers actually meet with each other as a whole, it’s for rushed faculty meetings, long professional developments, urgent district announcements, or fired up union meetings.

So, what can we (me and you) do as educators to help STOP being a “mean teacher?”  First, place importance and pride on your job.  If you BELIEVE that teaching is the MOST important job in the world, then you will start to treat ALL teachers with respect and kindness.  You will understand that every teacher’s success leads to the success of all children.  When a teacher is praised, earns high scores, or gets a “promotion,” you will be happy and excited for that person.  Next, remember why you became an educator, because it wasn’t for high-test scores!  I know this is hard with pay for performance, school grades, and teacher evaluations based on scores, but things won’t change if our own mindsets don’t change first.  If administrators started praising improvement, then we might just see EVERY teacher earning a praise.  Imagine what that would do for every teacher’s confidence?  Last, try to remember that we are all in this together.  At the end of the day, the children are going to suffer the  most from the “Mean Teacher.”


Cooperation? Collaboration? How about starting with Conversation?

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Cooperative and collaborative learning can enhance our classroom instruction with structured, vibrant, and meaningful learning.  Research indicates that this type of learning is not successful without prior class building and team building activities to promote a safe, nurturing classroom environment.  Educators who initiate the school year with students getting to know each other and make connections through conversation foster a class bond.  This is the type of bond where there are tears at the end of the school year, because everyone will miss each other over the summer.

 Yet, teachers are the last group of people to attempt to form bonds with each other.  Think about it…remember the last time you sat in a faculty, team, or committee meeting when the silence was awkward?  Perhaps, only one or two people did all the collaborating while other people checked their text messages or graded papers?  Sometimes, we emulate the negative scenarios in our classroom of attempted cooperative and collaborative learning!

This is not always on purpose – just as our students don’t maniacally plan to destroy our cooperative learning lessons.  As a school faculty and staff, we don’t take the time to have conversations with each other.   How many of you know EVERY one of your colleagues’ names?

So, what can schools do to promote conversations with one another?  Here are just a few suggestions to enhance a school community of collaboration:

  1. Start the year with a social event for faculty and staff to get to know each other. This doesn’t mean a faculty meeting with one getting to know you activity.  Host an event where the sole purpose is to mingle and mix!
  1. Assign the SAME vertical teams for the whole school year. These teachers can really get to know one another on a different grade level.
  1. Provide “safe” areas for teachers to have conversations with each other. Most teachers’ lounges are filled with clutter, copy machines, etc.  It’s not a place to relax.  How about having a comfortable, decorated area that attracts teachers to socialize with one another?
  1. Create social events throughout the year OUTSIDE of school. Invite the family members of faculty and staff.  Make some connections.

At the end of the day, administrators and educators may have their “hands tied” when it comes to some of these ideas, but let’s start our conversations then with a simple, “Hello,” on the sidewalk.

Out of my Comfort Zone

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At 4:30 am, the theme to “Star Wars” blares from my iPhone as I groggily open my tired eyes. SNOOZE – I love that button. Of course, a few seconds after I hit snooze I realize that my day must begin. What happens in the next hour and a half is like a typhoon as I scurry around making my kids’ lunches, making sure their backpacks are packed, empty the dehumidifiers – DAILY (yes, I live in one of the most humid island places), remember to turn the dryer on, empty the dishwasher, and make breakfast. Somewhere in that timeframe, I manage to take a shower and get ready for work.  Nope, I don’t lay my clothes out ahead a time for the week, because I am a “let’s pull out what’s not wrinkled” kind-of-gal.

Yes, I am a working mother of three beautiful children.  Children who I love with all my heart, mind, and soul, but as you know being a Mom is one of the hardest jobs in the world.  My fellow working moms – you also experience this whirlwind every morning.  Oh, did I also mention that I am also a teacher?  Yep, I am with children 24 hrs. a day, 7 days a week, 365 days of the year.  School holidays and vacations are not really a vacation for me.  Guess what, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.  There’s NOTHING more rewarding than being a mom and a teacher of children.  It’s a calling, and you can’t ignore God’s calling.

I have always wanted to be a teacher. Even when I was young, I would play school with the other children in my neighborhood. Of course, I would only participate in the role of the educator. There was something powerful about being a teacher. As a young child, I couldn’t explain that power in words. However, I felt it when I watched my elementary teachers in front of the chalkboard. They seemed to have power over the class. Those teachers could take us to other places through our imaginations. They could also turn on the light in our minds and make us say, “Oh, I get it!” One word of encouragement or praise could make us feel like we were on top of the world. Teaching seemed like such a glamorous job. Teachers seemed part-human and part-magical.

Well, as you know the world has changed, and it is almost magical.  Have you ever read the book, “The World is Flat,” by Thomas L. Friedman?  Due to technology, there are no more boundaries between countries, classrooms, families, etc.  As mothers and educators, we can look to our computer to share pictures of our adorable children (no matter how embarrassing to our kids); search for healthy, organic recipes; collaborate on lesson plans; find cute bday party ideas; and read endless blogs about people who share in our own experiences.  We can connect on a whole new level, and for many of us, it is out of our comfort zone to be so apparent and open with people we don’t know.  However, I believe the reasons why blogs are so popular is because there are so many of us that are really “closet teachers and learners.”  “Closet teachers” are those who have so much to share and offer, but they are afraid to speak in front of large audiences in person.  They might fear that public humiliation that happens face-to-face, but behind a computer, it’s much easier to type those words and not fear retaliation.  “Closet learners” are those who are scared to ask for help and admit they need help in being a mom, teacher, writer, etc.  Blogs are the perfect answer for these people who seek advice in a comfortable environment.

So, I admit that I am a closet learner.  I am one of those moms who wants to feed much healthier meals for my kids, organize her house much better, and do those creative Pinterest projects.  I am NOT creative, and I need help.  On the professional end, I am a closet teacher.  My desire is to present my ideas and collaborate with other educators, but I am afraid.  I fear those critics, and people who believe I think I know it all.  BUT that is further from the truth.  If you only knew the doubts that sometimes pervade my mind about whether or not teaching is really my calling.  There are so many times I want to have an office job in a cubicle with no human contact.  Seriously, I wanted to be Ralph Waldo Emerson.

However, after surrounding myself with positive mothers and educators who inspire me, I realize that I must “step out of my comfort zone.”  I can’t be an island and pretend to be this “perfect mom and teacher,” because I am NOT.  The title of my blog, “TheGuruSensei,” is actually a joke that stuck from my college days – thanks, Beth Puckett.  Everything is trial and error.  Life is really about the process.  So, I choose to share that process with you…to let you know I am not perfect.  I may be OCD and anal-retentive, but I make mistakes – it is ok.  So, may my ideas or “ramblings of a teacher” help you in your journey as a working mom, educator, closet teacher or learner, or whatever.  Please be kind, please be patient, and please enjoy!

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