Christopher Duffy’s recent editorial points to a crucial element in education: time. His piece focuses on the intensity of the school year, the extra time teachers must put in to be successful with their students, and how that time makes it difficult for teachers to achieve a life-work balance. As a young teacher once myself, and now as a school administrator in charge of supervision and support for teachers, I find that much of what Duffy says rings true to my experience. But I would expand his argument. The most important reason for making public education a more sustainable profession for teachers is because doing so makes schools better for students.
As Duffy makes clear, teaching is extremely challenging. Schools that are successful build communities of colleagues who can critique and inspire each other. When we started Boston Arts Academy fourteen years ago, we were mindful that we wanted our teaching community to include young, energetic teachers but also teachers with the skills and perspective only experience can provide. I would argue that we need teachers to stay in the profession because we need teachers who have taught many students, who have experienced many challenging situations, and who can share their best practices so that their experience benefits, not just the students in their own classrooms, but through mentoring, the students in their young colleagues’ classrooms as well.
I recently had a conversation with a young colleague who was perplexed by a girl in her last period class. Nothing this young teacher had tried was working, and we brainstormed together what interventions to try next. My young colleague was exhausted and discouraged, and I told her I was concerned about “the dark cloud” I could see in her expression. It’s a look that I’ve seen in many young teachers’ eyes, especially around early January, when the excitement of the beginning of the school year is long over and February vacation feels impossibly far away. At one point this young teacher asked me why I didn’t have a similar “dark cloud,” and the answer came quickly to me: because the girl we were discussing reminded me of a student I had in my class twelve years ago. Like my young colleague, I found my student perplexing. I tried many things that didn’t work, and there were many times when I felt completely unsuccessful. But my perplexing student of twelve years ago is now a successful, accomplished young woman of twenty-eight, a social worker in New York City with whom I’m still in contact. The difference is this: when I see the challenging sixteen-year-old girl, I can also see the poised twenty-eight-year old woman. Time has been crucial to my experience as an educator in the ways Duffy outlines, but more importantly, time has given me the gift of experiencing a young person’s transformation and the ability to share a faith in that transformation with my colleagues.
This post refers to a recent editorial in the Boston Globe written by Christopher Duffy called “Want to keep teachers? Get rid of summer break” that ran on 1/15/2012.
Anne R. Clark is the Associate Head of School and a founding teacher of Boston Arts Academy, a pilot school for the visual and performing arts within the Boston Public Schools. She received the National Educator Award from the Milken Family Foundation in 2008 and was a finalist for Massachusetts Teacher of the Year in 2007. She can be reached at email@example.com