By Carolyn Bunting
So much of teaching is now driven by data (i.e., test scores) and dictated by “best practices” that teachers are losing confidence in their own creativity. Yet despite these unfortunate consequences of No Child Left Behind, the important work of teachers remains unchanged — the work of connecting individually and personally with teaching. It’s enduring work that begins when a teacher enters the classroom for the first time and ends only when he or she exits on that last day.
“Connecting personally with teaching” is an odd phrase for today’s classroom. Each day typically progresses in such a skill-jammed, test-locked, other-directed format that teachers have little room for experiencing satisfaction or for having constructive thoughts about their work. The average classroom is a pressure cooker crammed with so many shoulds, oughts, and musts that creativity, joy, and a sense of teacher ownership have lost their place in the conversation about teaching. The long-term consequences of viewing teachers largely as workers to give feet to the ideas of others are obvious. But there is an interesting question behind the problem, the question of whether creative teaching can coexist with scripted teaching. At least for the next few years, if teachers are to get personal about teaching, they’ll have to do so in connection with a script. Is this possible? Is there a way for teachers to build a personal niche in the uptight world of teaching to the dictates of others?
Getting personal is hard. But it can be done, and it is being done every day in classrooms all across the country. Whenever teachers choose their own ideas over those in the script, they’re getting personal. Whenever teachers locate needed resources for at least a few of the dreams that motivate their work, they’re getting personal. Whenever teachers believe enough in themselves to care about making a lasting and individual mark in the classroom, they’re getting personal.
Both wide and deep, the process leads teachers to a place of their own in teaching, even as they confront a one-size-fits-all mentality. When teachers begin to think seriously about what matters to them as teachers, and when they look for ways to honor it, they build needed staying power and create a lasting direction for their growth.