Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Several years ago, the school where I work won a major grant from a private foundation. Much of the money went into staff development, and I have to say, I am the teacher that I am today because of the courses I took and the retreats that I attended in those years. This isn't saying much, but at least I'm better than I used to be.

The grant money is gone, but we're trying to keep some of the momentum going. One thing we're still doing is open-classroom visits. A couple of times a year, teachers invite others to sit in on classes to observe. Later there's a feedback session--no names, but we talk about what we saw, what worked, what we might try out. Last week, I opened up my classroom, and random characters from around the building showed up, people I don't normally collaborate with or even see. And I have to say, it's pretty scary to have colleagues in the room observing. I mean, it's one thing to have the principal in there to evaluate you, but something else to have some math teacher sitting there, looking bored.

Anyway, I didn't really plan anything special, just business as usual, but things went well. Students behaved. And the observers had some nice things to say.

After first period, a history teacher asked me, "Do you really do all those things every day?"

"Sure," I said. Then I thought about the lesson--bellringer, quiz review, reflection, small group work, essay writing--no wonder I'm tired at the end of the day.

During second period, a computer teacher actually stood up and participated in a group sharing of happiness quotes. Which reminds me: One of my favorite quotes on the topic is from Into the Wild, when Christopher is dying on the bus and finally has an epiphany and writes, "Happiness only real when shared."

And that might be true for open-classroom visits, too. A good lesson, like happiness, is only real when shared. So many times teachers get caught up with what's going on inside their own classrooms that they don't see all the good things happening right next door. As I've said in the past, teaching is a lonely experience because you actually do your job alone, with no colleagues there to support you in the middle of a crisis. But when you sit in another teacher's room, you can get ideas, share the experience, maybe find out how to quiet down so-and-so.

So if you're a teacher, or someone thinking about teaching, or maybe a parent wondering what's going on in today's classrooms, just visit a classroom. And your reaction might be similar to what I recently heard from a Northwestern University student observer: "When I first came here I didn't know what to expect. I mean, you hear so many bad things about city schools," she said. "And it's not bad at all. The kids are great."

Yup, I thought, another sucker. The kids end up driving you crazy, but they're also the ones that keep you coming back.


Anonymous said...

I have to say, I'm jealous. I read in your posts so much of the same "but I really DIG these kids" kind of attraction to urban youth (and their causes) I once idealistically had. And I got the shit beaten out of me. Not by the kids--though the ones who tell you to fuck off really didn't help the situation--but by the lack of support needed by me to get better, the lack of feedback from others I respected, the lack of reflection the administrations I worked for encouraged, the lack of substantial, meaningful staff development. And it makes me sad. I think I had a lot more to give, and I opted out (dare I say failed?)...

This feeds my sick addiction to your blog--both this window in to what could have been, but also to what I always knew could happen, albeit by someone else.

At least it's happening. And you're sharing. So it's real, Mr. P, it's as real as it gets...

mr. christian said...

You highlighted so many great things about teaching in your post. It must be spring!

As a teacher I see little of this collaborative idea in teaching, which has always perplexed me. I like sharing, observing, etc. but it's always me who has to seek out the other teachers (my bad breath? No, just checked, its okay).

You're challenging & motivating your students, which is no small task and the rewards are rarely immigrate.
Keep it up & motivating us too.

appopt said...

Wow, thanks for the two comments. I don't know what to day, especially in response to anonymous. But I'll try. Right now I'm feeling like a pretty big failure myself. Not too long ago I put in my notice. After this school year, I'm done. Not just with this blog. But teaching. It's not necessarily because of CPS ... or my school or administration. Instead, I just have got to get the hell out of Chicago. Go somewhere with decent weather. California. And I'm not sure I want to teach there, at least not after everything I've heard and read about the funding of public schools there ...

But maybe.
We'll see.

Anonymous said...

The weather? Who are you kidding? I don't think you quit teaching, which is more passion than career, because of some cold, cloudy, dreary days. Especially if you grew up there -- it's not like you're not accustomed to the weather. I suspect there is something else going on here...

ms g said...

Once fans of your blog (and of what you do in the classroom) get wind of this, be prepared for a flurry of attempts to get you to stay.

California isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Stay Mr. P. Stay!