Confession: Last week, I felt like I was failing as a teacher. Changing professions even briefly traipsed through my mind. It feels strange putting it out there, but it is the honest and ugly truth.  I was feeling beaten down, judged, and downtrodden by people outside my field who don’t understand what teachers do every day. I was at an all-time educational low and had temporarily lost my professional spark.

And I love education.  I love inspiring, leading, facilitating the growth of young minds.  So why was I feeling this way?

The truth—I’m not the only one. So many wonderful teachers I know are having similar thoughts. This should send off red flags to our legislators, administrators, and parents.  To the public. This needs to be a point where we realize that there is an escalating crisis: like me, too many teaches are contemplating switching careers.

I reflected on the multiple catalysts for my dark moment, but it all relates to one thing: losing sight of our real purpose in education.  Below is my list of solutions to help us make sure our country can keep our amazing teachers in the classroom and help prevent them from daydreaming about leaving the field and leaving the students who need them

  1. Teachers must have TIME TO TEACH.  I read about a new superintendent. His first move in his county? He laid down a testing kabosh. He did away with all the assessments that he felt were unnecessary. That way teachers can teach. I’m giving two county assessments this week…that means there are only three days left for teaching reading in the morning.   This happens the most at our focus schools—those that are “struggling” due to past standardized assessment data.  These schools (such as mine) are required to report even more data, give even more tests. Shouldn’t these schools be given even more time to teach?
  2. We must use data correctly. Don’t use data to beat teachers up. Use it to help them grow.  I was judged last week by one small sliver of test scores.  Of my two classes, my high-performing class scored at the top of my grade level. My class of struggling readers performed at the bottom of our grade level.  And I was devastated. But what does this truly mean? And how can we use this data to help teachers, not to destroy their confidence?
  3. We must create a culture of support without intimidation. Coaching takes a great deal of trust. How is that trust successfully built? How can we build a culture where teachers can be vulnerable, open, and honest with their practice? We must think about how to mold these relationships so they are successful ones, not detrimental ones.
  4. We must rethink our definition of success.  How are we measuring success in the classroom? The definition has unhealthily narrowed. As a teacher, I hope my students learn a lot more in my classroom than to just rock a reading test.
  5. Administrators and teachers must stand up and say enough is enough. We must push from the inside to help shift our thinking as country about how we define and measure successful teaching.  Let’s start with talking about the Measures of Effective Teaching research released last week.
  6. Administrators must shelter their teachers so that the teachers can shelter their students. In a time where a teacher’s to-do list keeps growing, we need administrators to step up and see what can be taken off teachers’ plates so they can focus on their craft. So they won’t be anxiety-ridden and pass that stress on to their students.
  7. We must refocus on what is important in education. It is not the standards. It is not an assessment. It is not a curriculum or a program. The most important thing in education is not what we teach, but who we teach. All of those things are important, but they pale in comparison to the job of preparing our students to be productive, happy citizens. We don’t just elevate test scores, we elevate children to their full potential. We must keep our eyes on the prize.

We do have a crisis. Many teachers are questioning their careers. The nationwide conversation around education is too focused on a product instead of the people that we teach. It has changed in such a manner that many bright teachers are considering walking out of their classroom doors. We must shift conversation to keep these teachers where they belong…with the students whose lives they change.

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