It’s about time

I leave school everyday feeling like a failure.  Sure, I need grit.  That, or a martini.

My teaching skills rock.  Ten-thousand hours?  I’ve logged 50,000.  Though I constantly look to refine my skills, as I look down the list of the TeachingWorks high-leverage practices, I am adept at all of them and attend to most every day.

Yet, even on my best days when my students have wrestled with challenging, interesting material, engaged in problem solving, and had fun while they did it; I know I’ve let them down.  Though I usually glean helpful information about what my students know and can do, I often cannot provide enough timely feedback, (to my students or their parents) or formally assess their growth toward a standard, or submit enough for the program review, or spend a minute with that kid I know had a fight with a parent last night.  This list changes depending on the day, but what never changes is that sick feeling in my stomach as I walk to my car.  It is never enough.

I do not give short shrift to these things because I am incompetent or because I do not value them; I neglect them because I am exhausted.  I do what I can to balance what I know to be best for my students with the time I have to give them, yet these kids deserve so much more.  Unlike the policy makers and the local educational leadership, I look each of my students in the eye every day, knowing that I have let them down.  We form deep bonds with our kids, and this dance with inadequacy is excruciating.

There is no issue more urgent than the professionalization of teaching.  No longer sages on the stage or glorified baby-sitters or well-meaning women who love kids, we must demand working conditions and supports that enable us to actually do the whole job parents and communities have enlisted us to do.  Brain research and advancements in educational research have shown how we might transform our classrooms.  We know too much about what good teaching looks like to accept any less.

Right now, we can:

  • Transform our teacher preparation programs to reflect what we know,
  • Advocate for the thoughtful implementation of the Common Core State Standards, including appropriate assessments and evaluation systems,
  • Encourage our master teachers to earn National Board certification to refine their practice and support a high level of competency nation-wide.
  • Support all teachers as learners and leaders though teacher-led communities like CTQ’s Collaboratory and others,
  • Showcase teachers’ ideas by publishing their work for myriad audiences, and
  • Work with our local unions, departments of education, standards boards, and independent organizations like Kentucky’s Prichard Committee to change the policies and archaic school configurations that trap teachers in this cycle of failure.

Teacherpreneurs, master teachers with release time, can make progress toward these solutions, and offer other teachers support to refine their practice and build an effective, professional teaching core.  Every teacher can contribute to this revolution.  We need to cultivate an army of us.  It will make all of us better, stronger, and more able to meet the needs of all of our students – and ourselves.

Photo of room 16 at Western Hills High School by Lauren Hill

This is cross-posted from my original blog on Ed Week: Pubic Engagement and Ed Reform

  • bradclark


    Salient point after salient point, but none more pressing in my mind than

    There is no issue more urgent than the professionalization of teaching.


    We know too much about what good teaching looks like to accept any less.

    Thanks for articulating this.


    • jozettemartinez

      I agree with Brad


      You are my new hero! Excellently written and expressed! Brava!

    • KellyStidham

      “we know too much about what good teaching looks like….”

      This is an idea I work with daily.   We are very quick to share new strategies we find effective or technology that elevates our practice.  How often do we intentionally let go or unwind what isn’t good enough?  Do we consider deeply our goals for students and what behaviors are inhibiting our growth?

      • ScottEDiamond

        Love it!

        Love: “How often do we intentionally let go or unwind what isn’t good enough?”

  • JohnVisel

    Thank you for your openness

    Thank you for your openness and honesty.  Reading this was something of a haunting experience for me.  Some mindtalk that came up:

    It’s not just me that’s exhausted every day. Maybe I work in an exhausting profession.

    Great teachers and leaders are never satisfied with their work.  The bar keeps on rising.

    Not all failings are created equal.  The “failing” of a master teacher may be better than the best day of a teacher not so dedicated to The Work.

    The psychological landscape of our profession–especially in the U.S.– is an odd one.  There is no one curriculum or set of practices that will work well everywhere.  There is no philosophy of teaching that is appropriate for each teacher. Whenever researchers find what makes a great teacher, someone doing the exact opposite shows up doing great work. The map is constantly moving.  It does keep it interesting, but there are precious few measures of true success.   Doing National Boards is an enlightening thing… …but then what?  Teacher leaders are an important next step.

    One moment in teacher development is the one where he realizes that his situation is far from perfect, and there is little chance of actually changing the structure.  This moment happens repeately.  Yes, we can do certain things within that structure to innovate, but when 50% of new teachers leave in the first five years (exhaustion?) we have to start talking about the structure itself.

    “Change comes slowly in red brick buildings.”




  • bradclark

    but red brick buildings are a

    but red brick buildings are a false construct aren’t they?

    Change happens one teacher at a time…it is in the ‘soft space’ of informal interaction that buy-in takes place (which also tends to occur in red brick buildings:).

    • ScottEDiamond

      Soft space is lacking

      You said: “Change happens one teacher at a time…it is in the ‘soft space’ of informal interaction that buy-in takes place (which also tends to occur in red brick buildings:).”


      But our schools are set up to block the occurance of unstructured interaction between teachers. Perhpas CTQcan make up for that, but to some extant we enable the attitude that teaching and planning should be solitary activities. And that when not solitary, time spent being “social” human beings is time wasted.

  • JohnVisel

    Red Brick Buildings


    Intriguing thoughts.  My perception of red brick buildings is that they are opposite commercial buildings. If a business fails to innovate, that business quickly marches into nonexistence.  If schools fail to innovate, there’s no penalty.


    • bradclark


      I completely understand that poor performing (not just assessment performance) schools do not ‘play’ under the same rules as the marketplace, but I wonder if the term ‘penalty’ is appropriate here.  Poor performing schools have plenty of penalties associated with them:  excessive oversight, public perception, nasty learning cultures for teacher and student alike etc. 

      I think there is some causal relationship here due to centralized versus decentralized structures, but I can’t put my finger on it.  I think that the teacher leadership movement is inherently decentralized so what ever solution we propose to the old paradigm, we have to use new paradigm solutions.  I do not think the old, centralized ones work anymore.

  • Richard

    Sad but true

    Thanks, Lauren, for articulating so many accurate points.  My worry is that significant, sustained change in our profession will require significant money over the long term.  Maybe our job is to continue trying to convince our countrymen that education our next generation(s) is worth the cost.

  • LaurenHill

    I wonder…

    If a business wants to innovate, they just do it.  Because we are such a regulated, enormous machine, change happens so slowly.  We also do not agree on how or when to innovate which slows the process down even further.  What should we do?

    • ScottEDiamond

      Rigid businesses fail

      Rigid businesses fail. Business moves forward because the dinosaurs (GM) are forced to change or die by competitors. We lack competition at the school and district level and are seemingly implementing it on the teacher level. Unfortunately most of our problems are at the school and district level not the teacher level.

  • KipHottman

    Connect for a Common Voice

    We need to connect and find that common voice.  Education is an enormous machine, I agree, but there are teachers who have similiar ideas and want to use their voice.  The problem is that they aren’t connected.  It seems that similar threads of ideas pop up in various teacher leader communities but unfortunately no one is working together.

    Imagine if there were a way to link these brilliant minds so that they could all work together.  Issues on agreement would be nipped in the bud because of the collaboration and opportunities would arise to shape policy together.  The enormous beast suddenly becomes more tame as solutions are presented in a proactive group effort.

    • Lynn Wilhelm

      The internet can be the platform for our collective voice

      I’m new here on CTQ and this seems to be a great community. I found CTQ on Twitter and I’ve found that platform to be excellent too.

      I’m a new teacher, but not a new professional. One of the problems I’ve seen is a lack of easy communication among teachers, especially within a school. I’m sure this varies from school to school, but teaching seems such an isolating profession.

      With the internet this is improving, but I seem to talk more with teachers outside my own school than within. Why? My school has corded phones which, while they connect to other rooms, don’t allow for voice mail or any kind of messaging system. Email is the best way to communicate, but there seem to be many teachers (and administrators) who don’t like to use email. We need an easier system within schools for quick communication–something like texting would work well–maybe we all need simple cell phones (really ugly, old tech ones that nobody would ever want to steal!). It’s no fun having to walk around the school trying to find a ceratin teacher for help/materials/advice (and how many schools have halls that connect so that you could easily miss someone heading to your room!). Sometimes it’s just easier to stay isolated and figure things out for yourself. But that’s one of the big problems in teaching. We spend way too much time figuring out things others have already figured out. Whether it’s how to construct a lesson plan or use a spectroscope, someone knows how to do many of the things we need to do. It’s just hard to find time to communicate.

      Or is the problem that there is little desire to communicate? For some teachers that may be true. Why do so many teachers seem to want to keep things to themselves? Is it because they’ve done it all on their own previously and they don’t want to share their hard-earned knowledge with others? If that’s it, the entire system for beginning teachers needs to change. My state, NC, seems set on instituting a merit pay system that will make this attitude pay if teachers don’t want to share what works for fear someone else will get that hard-earned bonus.

      I think if we can improve communication within schools, we can make a real difference. Once we find our voices, we can use them collectively.

      • LaurenHill

        It just takes one voice to start a call to action

        I love the old proverb about raising the water level in a fish pond.  Though you might not notice a difference at first, every new creature in the pond raises the water level just that much more.  (Same is true with global warming, but let’s stay positive!)  Change can happen, and you’ve made a real start by noticing the issue and looking for a positive solution.

        Welcome to CTQ: jump on in, the water is fine!


        • ScottEDiamond

          Good point!

          You said, “Change can happen, and you’ve made a real start by noticing the issue and looking for a positive solution.”

  • Rachel Losch

    Sticking with the platform of professionalization of teaching



    My administration is listening to me, and I have CTQ and EdWeek to thank.  Next year I may be moving into a hybrid role, art teacher, arts integration coach or professional growth coach.  I have been a highly skilled professional throughout my career, and I believe this is why I am being heard.


    What has changed? Everything, since I joined CTQ. I now have the confidence to speak out for what is right for my students, but now- people listen to me. The more we squeak, then surely we will be heard.


    I had a monumental experience working with our Site Based Decision Council meeting on Thursday. After presenting about researched based, arts integrated units of study for our kids, the council approved a change in our school’s focus.  We will now have an arts integrated focus.  Guess who wins here, the STUDENTS!  Yes, money will be invested in the teachers to visit Chicago CAPE schools. (Chicago Arts Partnerships for Education) Guess who wins here? The teacher, students and parents.


    How can this actually happen before my eyes? CTQ has given me the leverage to implement what is right for students.  That’s right, our group of teachers will not back down. We’ll see what happens…, stay tuned.

  • LaurenHill

    Such good news!

    Rachel, this is such exciting news!  And I know that your leadership will make all the difference for those students as your school implements these changes.  I guess we can make changes, one small “red brick building” at a time, right?

    Can’t wait to hear all about it as this adventure continues to unfold.

  • TeriFoltz

    Time to think

    Retirement affords me what I needed when I taught…time to think.  Time to reflect.  Time to be silent and wait for ideas to come to me.  Ironically, this is what I wanted my students to do, but they suffered as I did with limited time.  So, often what I got from them was cursory and perfunctory …and this is what they often received from me.  Lauren’s post is thought provoking and honest.  Thank you,

  • khancock1972

    Hopeful, But Cautious

    I am new to this community and happy to be here.  I believe that teacher voice is of paramount importance if we are to change education; however, in my experience it is often the voice most easily dismissed or excluded.  With fear of student achievement being tied to teacher salaries, an inability to move and protect one’s retirement investment and tenure, it’s difficult for teachers to exercise their voices.  I refuse to be governed by fear; however, I too need to maintain a job and benefits to support my family.  I appreciate a safe forum to ponder change.  I think that time to reflect and create should be an important part of a teacher’s day, rather than something that’s done during the summer, after school, or during other breaks.  Collaboration and reflective practice seems to be an important piece necessary to solving the puzzle of student achievement, but it’s a difficult thing to request as a teacher.

    • LaurenHill


      Hey, Kerry – thank you for articulating so clearly the pressures we face when deciding when to speak out and under what conditions. I think about ths a lot.  Fellow CTQ-KY member, Paul Barnwell, wrote about that in his blog, “Localized Debate: When and How You Engage.”  You might want to jump into that conversation, too.  I found it very thoughtful.

      So glad the STEAM Academy has a voice on this site!.


    • bradclark


      Who is it (collaboration and reflective practice) difficult to request?  Your colleagues?  Your admins?  Yourself?

      All are valid, but I am curious.