Ode to Next Year’s Teacher

Dear person who teaches them next year,

Please read my words and ingest their meaning.

 

I don’t remember it being in my job description to make your life more easy.

I don’t remember it being my job to hand you “perfect” students.

I don’t believe I have to fix all their problems so you have none to think about.

I don’t think you should expect me to get them to be good at everything. It is not even possible.

It is not my job to get them ready for you.

Instead, perhaps you should be ready for them.

 

Ready to accept their differences the way I did.

Ready to deal with each individual issue as an individual issue.

Ready to help them with things they find hard.

Ready to value the things they can do well.

Ready to see them as people with needs, not just people who make things hard for you.

Ready to change your expectations, maybe even slightly?

Ready to accept their starting points as their starting points, not yours.

Ready to accept responsibility instead of pointing the finger.

That’s what I do. Year after year, that’s what I do.

Why can’t you do it too?

 

Teachers who focus mainly on what students cannot do are not really teachers worthy of the name.

Teachers like this are too quick to find fault and pass on the blame.

Teachers like that expect all their students to be the same.

But, they were never the same. Not this year, not last year

Or the year before, or the year before, or the year before.

How far back could we all go on passing the blame for the child who can’t spell or add?

Back to the womb?

Well, go on. Good luck to you.

It won’t help that kid sitting in front of you though. That kid that you just described to me as:

“Not able to do anything”.

Shame on you.

 

Teach the kid, not your curriculum.

If the kid doesn’t fit your plans, your plans should change

Not mine, not his or hers from previous years.

Your.

Plans.

Should.

Change.

 

 

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13 comments

  1. lsacker

    Sam your post makes me so sad for I have heard the child does not know anything and seen fingers pointing to the teacher who “gave me that child” in an accusatory way. This was a poignant plea.

    • Mr. Sam

      There is nothing more upsetting, professionally, when that kid who made so much progress is seen as useless by someone who didn’t see the progress.

    • Mr. Sam

      I decided to edit that bit to make it a little more positive. A bit contradictory to react to aggressive “fingerpointers” by pointing the finger aggressively!

  2. Steviem

    I hear you on this one Sam. At my school we have PYP in the elementary and British national curriculum in the middle school. It’s like we speak two different languages almost. Fingers are definitely being pointed at the PYP teachers for all the reasons you gave.

    • Mr. Sam

      Thanks for your comment.

      The transition from PYP to British National Curriculum must be very tricky. I think the PYP can definitely be prone to leaving certain skills undeveloped and PYP schools should be determined to continue to get kids learning through inquiry and personal interest as much as possible while also making sure the kids’ skills develop as much as possible. Kevin Bartlett, and International School Brussels, have defined learning using three C words:

      - Conceptual Understanding
      - Competencies
      - Citizenship

      I know I have worked in schools in which the emphasis has moved way too far away from developing competencies as teachers and students become excited by a more open, flowing and organic style of teaching and learning. That balance is starting to be redressed but, if we are not careful, we may end up switching back to the old ways that we have done so much to get away from.

      Basically, teachers should communicate, collaborate and realise that each batch of students is different each year and that each teacher tries their best to help those students to learn what they can in the year they are together. If a kid is struggling with something, it is not the fault of their previous teacher! Just like if a kid is amazing at something, it is not all down to the talents of their previous teacher!

  3. collette

    I work in special needs and I do hear teachers from previous years pass on notes to the next years teachers, this is to help them be ready for this child, to prepare them to have it all ready to help this child succeed, rather than fumble about trying all different ways when yours works so well. I know this frustrates you and you have probably had some lazy shits to deal with, but lucky for us our staff have the children’s best interest at heart, without this feedback, the child will suffer and fall behind. Yet, with a little bit of planning time and assistance from previous years teachers, the child will transition better..Our feedback time slot is only about a small meeting and just for learning support children and behavioural children. Don’t you think getting the heads up and receiving it benefits you? But I do agree, I work with some useless teachers who should go work somewhere else and go ruin someone else’s life. If you don’t want to be diversified, don’t teach.. Don’t want to be part of a team, don’t teach.. Don’t want to get off our arse and put the children first, don’t teach..

    I hope you get the support you need to keep doing such a great job, you obviously are very passionate about it..

    • Mr. Sam

      The more communication as we hand students over from year to year, the better. I have done full-on presentations about kids I know might struggle the following year. I think it was worth it.

      I like your “don’t teach” list… it could go on much longer!

  4. Terie

    This post really resonated with me. I teach 9th/10th grade introductory courses, and am always made to feel as if I am supposed to smooth out every rough spot for the teachers who teach the upper level advanced courses.

    I also deal with teachers who subscribe to the “sink or swim” approach to teaching, who let students flounder and won’t teach them the skills needed to be successful in their courses. They are also those who won’t modify anything for the students in front of them–as a matter of fact, it’s almost as if they are so blinded by their curriculum that they can’t see that their students are individuals that come in with different needs, interests, and abilities.

    It’s as if they love their subject so much they don’t want students getting in the way of it.

    The most frustrating and sad aspect of all this is that, most often, these teachers have the potential to be great teachers–but they have no desire to grow or change to get better. Just like you mentioned with teachers who focus on what students cannot do, I feel that teachers who refuse to grow in their own practice aren’t worthy of the name, either.

    Anyway, thanks for writing this, and writing it so well.

    • Mr. Sam

      Great to get your thoughts on here, Terie, many thanks.

      Your sentence is very thought-provoking: “It’s as if they love their subject so much they don’t want students getting in the way of it”. I certainly hope it is a love of some kind that breeds this kind of attitude and not something else. From where I am standing at the moment though, it seems as though people just get caught up in a downward spiral of being too busy, stressed out, paranoid, gossipy and sucked into the culture of trying to make oneself look good by making other people look bad!

      Oh dear, I am a pessimist today!

  5. Mings

    Very well said! If you call yourself a teacher you should be able to teach ALL levels. If your first method didn’t work then you keep trying until you find one that does! You never give up on the people sitting in your room. I had a student who told me that their teacher last year thought they were dumb and thanked me for not giving up and not being okay with just passing. I can proudly say that I teach the kids not the curriculum!

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