Congratulations to Minnesota’s newest teachers, who are graduating this month with education degrees! There is no shortage of advice, tips, or inspirational quotes for you these days. The internet overfloweth with recommendations for what to wear, opinions about classroom management, cautions about work-life “balance,” and “how to’s” for your first year of teaching.
After 13 years in the classroom, I would like to humbly throw in my two cents. However, I won’t attempt to offer any advice on pedagogy. Being a constant learner in the classroom has been my strength, so I’ve learned not to be an armchair critic to any other teacher about their practice.
Instead, new teacher, I want to advise you to see yourself as a change-maker. A risk-taker. A status quo-breaker. To elevate the teaching profession and improve student achievement.
Be a change-maker.
We teachers ought to be proud of our profession. Unfortunately, everyone you meet probably has an opinion about teachers and schools, and you will be tempted to join the pontificating about “if only these kids could…” or “ if only these parents would…” or “the school administration should…” What you need to realize is that you are now an official spokesperson for our profession. You can publicly blame other people because teaching is tough, or you can take as many opportunities as you can to elevate our profession by being solutions-minded and action-oriented, and telling a new narrative to anyone who will listen. Stay focused on your sphere of influence. Find groups like MinnCAN that value teacher voices, and tell your story.
Be a risk-taker.
When I first went into teaching, I was pretty clueless about the unspoken rules for new teachers. (This is probably because I had a fantastic mentor.) Unfortunately, depending on where you teach, you may be viewed as the lowest on the totem pole. Even though most Minnesota teachers disagree with quality-blind layoffs, the “Last In, First Out” policy has created a culture where, in many cases, newer teachers’ voices are not welcome. Do not be silenced! Take risks in asking questions and offering solutions. Go ahead and raise your hand to lead a committee. Let your administrator know that you expect to be supported in taking risks so that you can grow in your practice and profession. Network like crazy and find other risk-takers. Support each other.
Be a status quo-breaker.
The magnitude and persistence of Minnesota’s achievement gaps prove that many of our public schools are significantly and systemically failing too many kids. Want different results? Find ways to reform. My guess is that you decided to be a teacher so that all kids—not just some of them—could learn. New Minnesota teacher evaluation models deliver evidence and feedback to teachers faster than ever. Minnesota Q Comp programs demonstrate that when teacher evaluation results are paired with job-embedded professional development, student achievement increases. It is clear that when teachers use feedback and data to change their instruction, students benefit. So, don’t be afraid to try something new, again and again. And then try again.
Holly Kragthorpe teaches seventh-graders at Ramsey Middle School in Minneapolis, where she is a union steward for Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, a school captain for Educators 4 Excellence, and a teacher blogging fellow for MinnCAN.