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Guest Blog: This is What I Am

This week, I'm proud to have one of my great colleagues and friends, David Bosso, as a guest blogger. David has been researching the impact of education reform on teachers and presents a summary of his findings below. On a personal note, one of my most amazing students in my Children's LIterature class at Mount Holyoke College was one of of David's former high school students in Connecticut. I love the circular and unexpected nature of life! 

Despite the many changes taking places in education and their attendant stresses and challenges on teachers and schools, teachers are poised to uplift and transform the profession.  To do so, a deeper appreciation for the multifarious dynamics of teachers’ lived experiences is vital.  In the summer of 2013, I had the opportunity to interview many of my fellow Teachers of the Year from the 2012 cohort for my doctoral dissertation.  The work concentrated on teacher morale, motivation, and professional identity in the context of education reform.  I asked questions such as, “Why did you become a teacher?” “What motivates you as a teacher?” “When you retired, how do you want to be remembered?”  The answers were insightful and inspiring on many levels, and a thorough analysis of the 24 interviews reveals several compelling and common themes.  These themes, reflective of teachers’ views of themselves, their interactions with students, the status of the teaching profession, and the state of education, offer an intriguing glance into the perspectives and experiences of teachers:

  1. Teaching is emotional work that is rooted in the moral purpose of education.  Ask teachers why they pursued a career in teaching, and you’ll usually hear a story about a moment of epiphany or a philosophical explanation that in some shape or form is a manifestation of the maxim of wanting to make a difference in the lives of their students.  It is not uncommon for teachers to refer to their work as a calling or a mission.
  2. The passion that teachers bring to their work is largely due to their sense of obligation toward their students.  There’s a reason why teachers often refer to their students as “my kids,” why they spend their own money on classroom supplies and bake sales, why they seek professional development opportunities during vacation time and summers, and why they are so proud of their students’ successes.  As one teacher said, “my job, bottom line, is to authentically empower kids.”
  3. Teachers’ professional selves are intricately intertwined with their personal identities.  Teachers often talk about their love for their work and their students, and they find personal and professional fulfillment through the acts of teaching and learning.  One teacher, contemplating retirement, conveyed her reservations about the end of her career: “This is what I am.  I cannot imagine putting myself in a situation where I can’t say to people, ‘I’m a teacher.’”
  4. External perceptions of teachers and schools, often perpetuated by policymakers and the media, undermine the credibility of the profession.  Teachers generally feel misunderstood and maligned by many outside of the profession.  Although the teachers I interviewed, by and large, feel respected by their students, they sense less respect at the state and federal levels. 
  5. Effective and authentic school leadership is crucial to school cultures and teachers’ work lives.  Education leaders, particularly at the district and school levels, can be a source of empowerment or disillusionment for teachers.  A school environment emanating from authentic school leadership is, first and foremost, founded upon trust.  A positive, welcoming, and productive school environment naturally follow.
  6. Teachers’ morale is enhanced by genuine involvement in decision-making.  Teachers feel an elevated sense of morale and motivation when their views are solicited and their input is valued.  Conversely, teachers become disengaged when they feel the “illusion of input,” as one teacher described it, when their imprimatur or acquiescence are sought after a decision already has been made, or when traditional hierarchies undervalue and neglect teachers’ expertise, perspectives, and experience.
  7. The most meaningful professional growth endeavors are often self-initiated and in collaboration with others.  Most teachers find standard professional development activities to be poorly designed and irrelevant to classroom practice.  Rather, teachers take it upon themselves to seek bona fide professional growth opportunities to further their own learning for the benefit of their students.  This is enhanced by meaningful self-reflection and school structures that allow for, and cultivate, collegial interactions. 
  8. Professional validation and support contribute strongly to perceptions of self-efficacy.  Although the State Teachers of the Year involved in the study each experienced praise, recognition, and validation for their work, it is clear that support, feedback, and gratitude from their students, peers, administrators, community members, and others, discrete or publicly acknowledged, foster greater levels of self-efficacy, morale, and motivation.
  9. Resilience and determination are key personality traits for teachers. With increasing demands on their time and energies, teacher resilience is critical for professional growth.  Moreover, because teachers feel responsible for the social, emotional, and academic well-being and growth of their students, they tend to have high expectations and are rather tenacious in this regard.  As one teacher stated, “it can be consuming and it may even feel overwhelming, but you always have to reach back into that core.”
  10. Teacher voice needs to be at the forefront of policymaking.  Most of the participants in the study expressed an increasing sense of obligation to advocate for the teaching profession even as the status quo often hinders them from actively and meaningfully participating in such activities.  Importantly, teachers also believe that an appropriate career continuum would elevate the status of the teaching profession and provide opportunities that take advantage of teachers’ expertise and build the capacity of the teaching corps.  Professional growth structures augment expanding teacher leadership and situate teacher voice to not merely inform policy, but indeed, to drive it.

The potency of these findings points to a strong need for a better understanding of our teachers and schools.  If anyone outside of the teaching profession deigns to comprehend how teachers feel and think, particularly during this era of rapid and taxing education reform, and if we truly desire to enrich teacher effectiveness and quality, then the factors that impact teacher morale, motivation, and professional identity must be given genuine consideration and primacy. 

I hope this study is a positive step in that direction.  I’m also assuming that the responses of my fellow 2012 Teachers of the Year are similar to most teachers.  Why did you become a teacher?  What motivates you as a teacher?   How would you describe your level of morale?  How do you want to be remembered when your career comes to a close?  

David Bosso, a Social Studies teacher at Berlin High School since 1998, is the 2012 Connecticut Teacher of the Year and 2012 National Secondary Social Studies Teacher of the Year.  David has traveled to Ghana, China, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Egypt, and Israel as part of educational delegations for global understanding.  Currently, he is a doctoral student in Educational Leadership at American International College, and is preparing a manuscript based on his dissertation entitled, “‘This is What I Am’: Teacher Motivation, Morale, and Professional Identity in the Context of Educational Reform. David can be found on Twitter @DavidBosso. He is also a member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (@NNSTOY).



Karen O. commented on March 19, 2014 at 8:25am:

How Teachers Feel

David stated it so well and his research sums up my feelings exactly. I taught for 37 yrs. and was rarely included in decision making I my own field of speech-language pathology. My over 800 students were my kids just as those I now tutor in reading are now mine. I expected to spend extra hours doing whatever was needed for them. 

LI gained respect in my early days but by the time I was over 50, edging my way toward retirement, I found that waned parents still respected me for the most part but administrators seemed to favor younger teachers (and I was one who did professional development before it it was required).

Good for you, David, for documenting how so many teachers view their profession and how they feel.

David Bosso commented on March 19, 2014 at 4:37pm:

Thank you, Karen, and thank

Thank you, Karen, and thank you for your 37 years of service.  I'm sure you made a positive difference in the lives of hundreds of students.  The affective and vocational aspects of our profession must be kept front and center.  My guess is that you saw many changes over the course of your career, some for the better, some not.  As long as teachers are viewed and treated as the professional experts that we are, we will continue to make positive progress.

Lothar Konietzko commented on March 24, 2014 at 6:10am:

Vet. Teacher Advice

Back in the fall of 2001, my first year of being paid to be a teacher, I listened to the veteran teachers about retirement planning.  In Michigan back then you could buy service credit years, up to five, that counted towards your retirement.  The advice was so good that I now have credit in the system ( if my pension is still there thanks to politicians ) for 20 years of teaching instead of 15.  The advice was based on "what if you want to retire after 25 years of hard work, what if something happens and you need to retire early, you could get credit for 30 years of service."  The years were purchased based an a formula of your current salary, the lower your salary the cheaper your years would cost.  My 5 years will cost me $18,000 to the State of Michigan.  I pay $50 out of each paycheck towards that goal.  What I have is now getting taken away for the next generation of Michigan teachers as our state senate has a series of bills SB 722-728 that will remove that option to purchase service credit towards retirement.  Over the years I have advised all my interns and younger colleagues to "purchase their years". My first intern did and boy is he happy. What is demoralizing for me as a teacher is the political decisions being made without teacher input.  I feel bad for the next generation of teachers in Michigan.  I have advised my current intern to seek employment outside of Michigan in states that support teachers with good salaries and benefits.  I owe a lot to those who came before me.  

Megan Allen Megan Allen commented on March 19, 2014 at 5:34pm:

The mighty experience of our veteran teachers


You really got me thinking.

I was recently in a presentation at our NBPTS Teaching and Learning Conference when an audience member made a slightly negative statement/generalization about our veteran teachers. This was quickly followed by one of my favorite veteran teachers (who is a CTQ member) pointing out the experience and expertise that our veteran teachers have to offer. I find that in many cases we don't always use the expertise of our veteran teachers. I am so sorry that this thinking pops up in our school buildings, and I know it is not the norm, but I think it is far too prevalent. How can we better tap into and build on the amazing experience in our school buildings? 

By you joining in this conversation, by adding your ideas and thought leadership in the Collaboratory, your knowledge and experience is being shared and built upon by so many others. Thank you!


John Tully commented on March 19, 2014 at 10:00am:

Starting Teachers

All of these are areas I ask my starting teachers to consider as they embark on a teaching career. It is vital that we find ways to get young teachers to understand the challenges and opportunities ahead of them so they start off ready to make a difference, and anticipating ways to overcome real obstacles to their own professional identity.

David Bosso commented on March 19, 2014 at 5:28pm:

Formative experiences are

Formative experiences are critical to the development of professional identity and the cultivation of traits such as teacher resilience.  Of course, strong preparation programs and mentoring in the early years are crucial as well.  This is why we need excellent teacher trainers like yourself, John, who not only emphasize the need for a strong pedagogical foundation, but underscore the balance between the realities of daily life in schools and the moral purpose of our work.

Stephen Donnison commented on March 19, 2014 at 2:18pm:

Teaching and learning

Relevant and concise I know many teachers and ex teachers whose main ambition was to help their kids (students) to progress both personally   and academically - a tough calling.

David Bosso commented on March 19, 2014 at 5:27pm:

A tough calling for sure, but

A tough calling for sure, but one that so many incredible people take on because they have the intrinsic motivation to do so.  So much of who we are is intimately connected to our interactions with our students.  We can never let the affective, vocational, non-cognitive aspects of teaching and learning lose their priority.

William commented on March 19, 2014 at 4:38pm:

Teaching as a Career

I like the career-focus of some of these points. Public education creates an atmosphere where teaching is about surviving instead of thriving. Teaching becomes about just shrugging your shoulders and getting through the day/semester/year, knowing that real changes simply will not happen. 

Thus, quality-of-life improvements (less students per class, actual planning/grading time during the day, flexible schedules, optional Fridays, the time to study our own content areas, workout incentives and fitness plans for teachers during the day) are viewed as unrealistic pipe dreams. In other words, the things that would actually keep teachers around for a long time are laughed at, and changes that gradually drive teachers away are embraced. Students simply do not get the individualized feedback they deserve because their teachers cannot provide it. Innovations such as the Flipped Model, PBL, technology have asounding potential, but they do not address the fundamental day-to-day realities that teachers navigate. 

Interestingly, I think teachers would welcome more accountability if such substantive changes were embraced. I don't necessarily need more money. I need more time to improve my craft. I need time to slow down and reflect. I need time to grade essays and offer real feedback. I need consistent professional development and planning time as the year goes, time that's built into the day and year. Not just thrown in sporadically. 

Bottom line, long-term, quality-of-life improvements for teachers aren't taken into consideration when educational reforms do take place.

David Bosso commented on March 19, 2014 at 5:37pm:

So many excellent points,

So many excellent points, William.  Interestingly, another aspect of my research reflected participants' concerns with "institutional inertia," ranging from preparation programs to the structure of our days.  Certainly, many norms, policies, practices, etc. need to be challenged, reevaluated, and perhaps modified so as to meet the demands of teaching and learning in the current context.  I've always found it interesting how much we use international comparisons as a basis for what is wrong with American education rather than identifying what works elsewhere and maybe taking the initiative to act upon it.  Yet, we continue to add to the already full plates of our teachers.  Ultimately, I think if we take a step back as a society and truly consider the purpose of education (the ideals enshrined in schools' mission statements are a great start), we will be headed in the right direction.

Brianna Crowley commented on March 20, 2014 at 2:24pm:


That's what I thought when I read your comment. You articulated everything I have had swirling in my head since a recent less-than-ideal interaction recently with some colleagues and our builiding principal. I was trying to articulate that we cannot  simply sit around and talk about big changes or "transformational learning" when our schedules, paid time, and by-in-large classrooms look the same as 50 years ago.

Big learning shifts require big teaching shifts which require big time and resource allocation shifts. It is all interconnected.

I've been on many ambiguously-titled committees whose stated purpose was "2st century teaching and learning" or "Technology Integration." Now in my 7th year of teaching and 4th decade of life, I cannot accept that these committees work will have much of an impact without the structural changes to actually support it.

Thank you for articulating this so concisely and so perfectly. My thoughts appeared in text :)

David Bosso commented on March 19, 2014 at 5:01pm:

Formative experiences are

Formative experiences are critical to the development of professional identity and the cultivation of traits such as teacher resilience.  Of course, strong preparation programs and mentoring in the early years are crucial as well.  This is why we need excellent teacher trainers like yourself, John, who not only emphasize the need for a strong pedagogical foundation, but underscore the balance between the realities of daily life in schools and the moral purpose of our work.

Kahlil Gooden commented on March 23, 2014 at 3:23pm:

Valuing Education

William, Briana and David,

The three of you, in my oppinion, have articulated very well where most of the issues in our contries educational system has gone wrong.  Everybody want to talk about getting students ready for the 21st century, and reforming education, but the mind set and practice is still based on a 1950s model. If you only stay a little longer, do a little more, cut recess time by 15 minutes for more instructional time, more high stakes testing prep work.... These have been the reforms that have been issued for the last 20 years, and in my oppinion, it has not yeilded the results that those in charge of decision making would have liked.  If we truly valued education as a society, we would slow down and create more time to plan, check/grade papers and give substantive feedback to the students so that they can see why and how they were incorrect.  I agree that more accountablilty would be embraced by teachers if more substantive changes were made and some of the tedius, ineffective functions of school were done away with.  Teachers don't pine for more money, they pine for effective ways of improving their craft,  less pressure to "get it done now" and more respect from our elected officials and the general public.

David Bosso commented on March 24, 2014 at 7:03am:

Educational paradigm shift

Thank you for your comments.  Many of the points you make are reflective of what takes place in countries like Finland and others with which we continue to make comparisons.  Hands down, the number one ingredient for meaningful educational change is a shift in the way teachers, schools, and education as a whole are regarded.  From teacher preparation programs to professional development activities to the structure of the school day and year, we need to seriously consider our core values and enact policies and norms that parallel them.  An undue emphasis on high-stakes testing essentially ensures that this will not be the case.  Putting teachers at the forefront of decision-making and truly valuing their input, leadership, expertise, experience, and perspectives in a systematic fashion are certainly positive steps.

Linda Morse commented on July 25, 2015 at 12:28pm:

teacher motivations

Thank you David for such a well-written and discussed examination of teacher sentiments about both their profession from the inside and from the outside.  You & I met at Primary Source's Africa conference a few years ago.  Congratulations on your PhD.  Linda Morse

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