“When Will I Get the Look?” The Quest for Excellence in the Classroom.


On the first day of school the early childhood grades, the five, six and seven years old were squirming in their seats as Ms. Goodman walked to the stage. She stood erect, glaring at the audience … the tykes whispered “It’s Mrs. Goodman,” and sat up straight, the six and seven year olds shush-shing the five year olds. You could hear a pin drop.
A new teacher, standing in the back of the auditorium, asked her colleague, “When will I get ‘the look?'” 
For some, it will some slowly but surely come with experience, unfortunately, for others, never. I have met new teachers with sparkling resumes from elite colleges, who have never failed at anything, and were devoured by six year olds; high school teachers with years of experience teaching high level math classes brought to their knees by middle schoolers.
One October I met a gray bearded Teaching Fellow, two months into his teaching career, he had been the Chief Financial Officer of a major corporation who retired to fulfill his lifetime ambition, to be a teacher. “This is the hardest job I’ve ever had … my emotions flit from elation to despair, in the same period, and I drag myself home every day …teaching is a Herculean task.”
On Tuesday a million children will begin another year of school. Teachers will be standing at the classroom door, welcoming the youngsters, eager to begin that magical task, teaching children to read, to think, to express, to become successful young adults.
Earlier in the week the 2007 high school graduation numbers were released, and, the Department of Education, lauded the increases. 
What is so troubling is that from the State down to the classroom we are incrementally easing the requirements. We know this from the NAEP scores. The diploma, the graduation document, has been made easier. The State, the City, schools and yes, teachers, cannot pat themselves on the back.
This is a terrible disservice to the children we teach.
I have heard too many teachers lament, the work is “too hard” for the children we teach. Children living in poverty, with health issues, in crime ridden neighborhoods, in single parent households, … let’s not teach Regents classes in the 9th grade, let’s use 3rd grade readers in the 4th grade … after all, these kids face such obstacles …
We can’t succumb. We have to all get that “look.” We must demand, from ourselves and the children we teach.
Students must graduate from high schools with the skills that will enable them to compete: to compete in college and the workplace.
Teachers must not bemoan the lives of the children they teach: teachers can control their own conduct, they control the lessons they teach. As teachers, as communities of teachers and learners, we must acquire the skills, the “look,” to become the best at what we do …

One response to ““When Will I Get the Look?” The Quest for Excellence in the Classroom.

  1. perchance2dream

    The “look” is command and authority acquired over time by those willing to commit.

    For many reasons–some listed in your post– it is becoming harder and harder for teachers to commit for the long haul. We have specialized in demonizing the teaching force without ever looking at what a good job most teachers do.

    The job is certainly far less desirable than it used to be. A bad economy may give us a short term bump in retaining a teaching work force. But keeping people in place for a few extra years will not make them committed to the community and to the children.

    Therein lies the real challenge.


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