After a few weeks of toying with the idea of making a grade-level jump for next school year, I finally decided to teach sixth grade again in the fall. I admit, I’m excited to be in the same position for somewhat selfish reasons: I’m already familiar with the curriculum, I won’t have to move classrooms and I’ve already accumulated a lot of grade-level resources. But I also think it’s what’s best for my soon-to-be students, who won’t have to suffer through quite as much of a rocky start in September with a teacher who’s just getting her bearings.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen the students at my school suffer through way too many rough starts this year, from new teachers and administrators to different schedules and different curriculums. They’re so used to constant change that inconsistency seems the norm. Some classrooms see a different teacher every year, and sometimes even mid-year.
These interruptions make it difficult for teachers to pass along and share useful student information and to ensure that students learn everything they need. It’s also challenging for students to form positive relationships and build trust with adults in the school. On top of that, new administrators usually bring with them new curriculums, schedules, management systems and behavioral expectations. Change can be a good thing, but so many inconsistencies from year to year are tough on students who already face enough challenges in and outside of school.
There’s no one culprit to pin down for this lack of educational consistency. Teachers are responsible for maintaining stability within their own classrooms, but they don’t have much control over their own job stability. Administrators are responsible for a lot of the changes, but they’re also are under pressure to do whatever it takes to improve struggling schools.
The good news is Minnesota has several education reforms in the works that will alleviate our problem with inconsistency. For example, consistent and fair teacher evaluations, if factored into hiring decisions, could allow quality teachers to stay in their positions year after year. Comprehensive principal evaluations could give administrators a better idea of their strengths and weaknesses, as well as how to approach specific school issues. These are the types of “good” changes that will lead to more consistently managed schools, making teachers’ jobs easier and ultimately making a better experience for the students.
As the year has wound down, I’ve mentioned the 2013-2014 school year several times to my students. Each time, my students are shocked to hear that I’ll be back: “You’re going to teach here AGAIN?” “You’re really coming back to THIS school next year?” I’m glad that I can answer “yes,” in the same school, the same grade level and even the same classroom. I know that I’ll still be learning from my mistakes next year, but thankfully I will never have to be a first-year teacher again. I hope that I can be a more consistent teacher for my students, and eventually be part of a more consistent educational system, too.
Christina Salter is a MinnCAN School Reform Blogging Fellow.