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Log in to Witsby: ASCD’s Next-Generation Professional Learning and Credentialing Platform
April 1, 2001
Vol. 58
No. 7

Voices: The Teacher / Reflections on Saturday Morning

      On a recent Saturday morning, I sat at my kitchen table surrounded by 93 student essays. Before me were a red pen, a grade book, and a grading rubric. Just beyond me in the family room, five books on the teaching profession were scattered on the coffee table. It was obvious that I was not going to have time to clean the house that weekend because I was up to my neck in "after-school" activities. For me, after-school means balancing my family, personal, and professional lives to the best of my ability. As a teacher, I am always busy—and I wouldn't have it any other way.
      A teacher's life is like a many-faceted diamond. Becoming an accomplished teacher requires training in teaching, constantly updated knowledge of subject matter, close attention to the students being taught, development of a teaching repertoire, and an extension of one's professional influence outside the bounds of the classroom. Teachers must carefully cut and polish the diamond to uncover its brilliance.
      My first cut into that unpolished gem involved earning advanced degrees that would improve my teaching skills. I studied many hours to earn a master's degree in gifted education and an educational specialist's degree in curriculum and instruction. At the same time, I kept up with my family, home, and teaching duties. These degrees led to a higher salary, and, more important, they helped me become a more competent teacher.
      I continuously seek new activities and methods to enhance classroom learning. Every new unit and activity enhances teaching and learning in my classroom. Over the years, my students have written oral histories; swarmed city hall to find out how staff members use math, science, language, and social studies in their jobs; designed coloring books that were donated to the city public works department; and researched, written, and performed puppet plays on historic figures and events. To make these activities possible, I identified community resources, brought in speakers, and put together volumes of information during my after-school hours. The payoff was the students' growth each time they finished a project.
      Other facets of teaching involve understanding how students learn and keeping up with changes in content fields. Reading books and journals, belonging to educational organizations, attending and presenting at conferences, and working with colleagues help me learn more about the nuts and bolts of teaching social studies.
      My most rewarding effort came when a fellow teacher and I decided to improve our teaching of critical thinking. We did research, wrote a position paper, planned lessons, and assessed student learning and results. Developing the project took an entire summer. Conducting the action research took much of our after-school time during the school year. It was time well spent. Our teaching practices changed forever and we learned the value of working together. Becoming a better teacher is easier when you have a colleague at your side. Having a teaching partner to critique your ideas and share the challenges and struggles of teaching is priceless.
      My colleague and I have since worked on other projects and have made presentations at many conferences, sharing with other teachers what we have learned. We worked after school and on weekends to plan our conference workshops. It is impossible to create a workshop for a professional conference without critically assessing your own practice.
      The brightest aspect of my teaching life is my family. You can't be a teacher without family support. My two sons, who complained as I dragged them with me to preview museums, now willingly go to those places as adults. I often sought the boys' advice when they were in school and still lean on them today. My husband pushed me to attend graduate school and always says, "Go ahead; do it." I can always count on my family to listen with open minds to my latest idea or challenge.
      My mother—a former teacher—considers teaching a prestigious job. She's right. That's why I and millions of teachers like me sit at kitchen tables on Saturday mornings, red pens in hand. We're adding one more cut, one more swipe of polish to the diamond that will shine only if we take time to work on it after school.

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