Inspired by the book Flip the system: Changing education from the ground up, many of our Mount Holyoke College teacher leader Master’s students created their own teacher leader vignettes. Here is one from an amazing veteran teacher in Boston, MA, written about one of her colleagues. Please welcome guest blogger and educator Leslie LaRocca (@lakogan).
Jaime radiates energy. She enters every room with a bright smile and a palpable enthusiasm for teaching. Jaime has taught high school history in a high-performing public school district in Eastern Massachusetts for the past ten years, a time in which she has seen many significant changes to her responsibilities as a teacher.
Jaime has always wanted to be a teacher. From the time she was young, she used to “play school” with her younger siblings. “I had the chalkboard, the lessons, the reading book, and my siblings would be my students. I would grade papers, and even use carbon paper to make copies, Jaime said. “I always got excited about sharing with my siblings what I knew. I taught my little sister how to sound out the letters and how to read, and I really liked it.” From that moment, Jaime was hooked on teaching.
After finishing her undergraduate work at Vanderbilt, teaching for two years in upstate New York, and earning a Masters in Teaching and Learning from Harvard University, Jaime thought she had her career mapped out. “I was going to teach for ten years and then go into school administration,” she said. “Now it’s been ten years and I feel like I’m still figuring things out. I’m still learning and evolving as a teacher. Teaching is really dynamic, because the kids are different, and they change the experiences for me every year.”
Perhaps the hallmark of Jaime teaching career has been her participation on several teacher travel tours. Jaime and I traveled together as part of a Fulbright-Hayes Group Travel Abroad Seminar to Egypt and Tanzania in the summer of 2010. Additionally, Jaime has traveled to Korea with the Korea Society in 2011 and to Japan for a “peace tour” as part of the Five College Center for East Asian Studies in 2013. “There are so many elements to the travel experience,” Jaime said. “I can provide specific anecdotes for my students and give them real life examples of what I’ve experienced. There’s nothing like saying to students ‘when I was in … I saw …’ and allowing them to visualize what other places are like.”
Jaime noted that one commonality between all three study tours is that “the biggest takeaways have been religion as a cultural understanding of faith and how religions express themselves.” This is very useful for a world history teacher such as herself.
“I use pictures from my travels in the classroom, but more than anything I use anecdotes, and those often frame the activities in my classroom,” Jaime said. “It’s given me confidence talking about religion and faith, something I was uncomfortable talking about before. I can give concrete examples now, and even pull my experiences into current events, challenging students to think about what they hear from the media and popular culture.”
Challenging her students to think critically defines Jaime’s classroom. However, she often feels unable to devote enough time to those skills because of top-down bureaucratic policies.
“Teachers have more on our plates than ever before,” Jaime said. “For me, much of this is regarding supervision and evaluation coming from the state. We don’t have it as bad as a lot of public schools, but it’s still a lot of work. I have to write goals, show evidence of meeting goals, show evidence of meeting standards, and so on. I appreciated the old way of classroom observation, where someone watched my class and evaluated it. I feel the same way about the Common Core and C3 frameworks. Now we’ve added even more standards, and it creates more bureaucracy and oversight on what teachers are doing. I feel pressure to be doing more writing with my students, but the rubric movement, with all of its goals and standards, stifles creativity.”
Even with her natural enthusiasm and energy, Jaime sometimes feels conflicted and overwhelmed by expectations put on her as a teacher.
“Schools are being asked to do too much. Here I am, a history teacher, but I’m monitoring the mental health of my students, and teaching kids the proper language to address our new understandings of gender,” Jaime said. “I need to do response to intervention (RTI), I need to be ELL certified and modify my lessons, and teach kids how to navigate social media. I’m not supposed to stress the kids too much but enough to teach them resiliency, all while giving them As.”
It’s important to note that Jaime works in an affluent school system that is consistently ranked among the best in the state of Massachusetts, and sometimes the United States.
“For teachers,” Jaime said, “there is more and more on the plate, and nothing ever gets taken off. We need to look hard and think: what is the purpose of education in this country? I think the purpose of school is to teach kids to be good communicators. Being a collaborator and a communicator is, regardless of your profession, so important. We need students to articulate ideas verbally and through writing, to be assertive and flexible in their thinking.”
Jaime wishes that she could take more time in her classroom to prepare students for the world they face upon graduation. This means not only focusing on content and global citizenship, but also teaching students how to be problem-solvers. “Problem solving has to be founded in fact, research, and information. That’s where content comes in, along with writing and communication skills,” Jaime said. “How do standards and performance-based assessments fit into that?”
Despite these challenges, unforeseen to Jaime at the start of her career, she still hasn’t lost her passion or enthusiasm for teaching. “What I loved about teaching as a kid I love now,” Jaime concluded. “Getting people excited about the world.”