My first year as a consultant is coming to a close. Yesterday I sat down with my supervisor for my year-end one-on-one. We talked about my year, and looked back at the growth plan I submitted in September. That growth plan shows how little I knew about what I was getting into when I took this job.
My first goal was to improve my facilitating and presentation skills. Apparently back in September, I thought that’s all there was to consulting. While it is important that I facilitate my sessions well, there is so much more to this job. I have to defend curriculum reform, help people with assessment strategies, come up with ideas for classroom activities, plan using UBD, lead lesson studies and so much more.
My second goal was to become more proficient at SMART (TM) boards. I should have included technology of all forms. One year ago, I knew of none of the following, but now I use them often: blogs, Twitter, Prezi, Geogebra, document cameras, iPhone math apps, Wolfram Alpha, and so many more things that I’m sure I’m forgetting a number.
My last goal was to complete my M.Ed. I’m not even sure why I included that, but it was probably just so my boss knew I was going to be busy. That one is almost checked off and completed (once I spend a week on the Portland campus in July finishing up my last course). I’m really close to being a master.
I was reluctant to leave the classroom after 18 years. I was worried I couldn’t affect other teachers, so I considered how much safer it would be to stay in my own classroom, where I thought things were going pretty well. At the encouragement of a former principal, I applied for the consulting job, and was apprehensive when I accepted the position. My supporters told me that I would be able to use this position to influence teachers and their practice, but I wasn’t sure. I always resented consultants who came out to my school to tell me how to teach, especially when they admitted they hadn’t been in a real classroom for years.
I haven’t been perfect in this role, but I have seen that I can influence others to try new things in their classrooms, which is rewarding. As much as possible, I try to keep my sessions relevant and practical. I show teachers what I think the revised program will look like in action, and I tell as many personal stories as they can stand. I think that the fact that I have tried much of what I am asking them to try carries some weight. They seem to respect that I have recent classroom experience. I have received some good feedback about my sessions, and teachers tell me that they are trying some of the ideas I present.
By this time next year, though, I won’t have as much credibility, because every Alberta high school math teacher I talk to will have spent a year teaching the revised curriculum, and I won’t have had that same experience. Part of me thinks that two years is the maximum amount of time a person should spend consulting.
What has been most rewarding this year, though, is my own professional growth. I have learned so much about teaching math this year. I have come to realize that I wasn’t nearly as good as I thought I was in the classroom. I will be better when I go back.
This job also gave me the opportunity to meet many great teachers. I saw a junior high teacher who was brilliant in his capacity to engage kids and make them responsible for their own learning. I met a high school teacher who sees math and teaches math so differently than I do that it really forced me to see things in a new way. I have worked closely with some pretty strong principals. These people work in my school division, and I wouldn’t have met them if I wasn’t a consultant. I also discovered an entire blogging community of practicing teachers who share ideas. I’d have been a better teacher if there had been such a supportive community of professionals available to me when I started teaching. Of course, the beginning of my career precedes the internet, so such things just weren’t possible back then.
That said, I do miss the classroom.
Top 5 Things I Miss Most About Classroom Teaching
- Daily interaction with students. There’s something special about kids you are responsible for. Now when I go to schools, I see kids, but they’re not mine so it’s not the same relationship.
- Daily interaction with colleagues. I see great people every day, but hardly ever the same people two days in a row. It’s harder to develop relationships this way.
- The challenge of taking a student who thinks he can’t do math, and getting him through a course.
- The smell of whiteboard markers (seriously, I like the smell).
- Fewer meetings. I had no idea how many meetings I was committing myself to this year when I took this job.
Of course, there are some things I don’t miss.
Top 5 Things I Miss Least About Classroom Teaching
- Parent-Teacher Interviews
- Report Cards and Marking
- Discipline Problems
- Never having enough time in the day to do the job as well as I wanted to
- Grad (I’ve been to 18 of them in a row. I didn’t miss it at all this year)
My Biggest Fear About Returning to Classroom Teaching
When I do return to a classroom, my biggest fear is that I won’t be able to put in all the work my new knowledge about teaching math will require. I know now that I wasn’t good enough before. I will have to be much, much better. Such an improvement will require an incredible amount of planning and preparation. It will be like being a first year teacher all over again. At 40+ years old, I wonder if I’ll still have the energy to make it work. I fear that if it’s too much effort, I’ll just fall back into my old habits.