Giving teachers credit

The other week I said something in a meeting that, after further reflection, was wrong.

“Some teachers won’t do anything unless they’re getting credit,” I said.

Context, of course, is everything, and explains this statement. I was talking about formal professional development programs, the kind requiring regular work, attendance, and meetings. I was trying to encourage creative thinking about giving academic credit for online professional development.

In this case, the statement is about 90 percent true for me. If I want to keep teaching, I need formal professional development credit.

It wasn’t always this way. When I first began teaching, I did what needed to be done. There was a time when I wouldn’t think twice about signing up for a project or taking a new class.

Now, with three kids at home, I need to be a bit selfish. They need my time and attention. So if I’m going to take a class, or do a study group, I expect to get credit for it.

But the broad idea — that teachers won’t do anything unless they’re getting credit — is way off course.

Last week I was camping. Walking my dog along the side of a river, what am I thinking of? Not the river. Not the heat. I’m thinking about teaching. Specifically, I’m thinking about how to organize the classwork component of my class in order to better differentiate instruction while still keeping things manageable on my end.

I don’t suppose it will surprise any of us that teachers “work” during the summer. Summer work for teachers runs the gamut of possible activities, covering everything from summer school teaching to second jobs outside of education. Several teachers I know do “odd jobs” like painting and construction during the summer. I suspect a few may even put on a vest and punch a clock somewhere.

But there’s another kind of work teachers do. It’s the consistent low-level thinking about teaching that goes on. The thought that runs through your head. The problem you’re turning over. The nagging annoyance of trying to find a better way to do things.

It’s been this way for me for years. It’s hard for me to read a book simply for enjoyment anymore. Last week I finished reading Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s 1995 book China Wakes. It was a fascinating read, but why was I reading it? Because it had been suggested to me by another teacher as a “must read” for journalism students. And as I read it, certain sections jumped out at me, screaming their relevance to teaching. I dog-eared a few pages to ensure I’d look at them later.

Summer work isn’t limited to serendipitous thought about teaching. There are several projects on deck for the summer, all of which require more than casual attention. Organizing curriculum units, finding new material, writing lesson plans — all these are there. Once again, I’m reworking the basic concept of how I organize my class. I’ve taught for 13 years, and I swear I redo this every year.

But sometimes I think the most valuable summer work teachers do isn’t the stuff we intentionally sit down to complete. Perhaps it’s simply a professional mindset, one that requires us to view the world through a pair of teacher-colored glasses. I suspect more of us have this mindset than people think.

And we don’t always get credit for it.

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