Thursday, March 20, 2008

Can Retired Teachers Be Used as Resources?

Do we really teach knowledge in depth or do we just “cover the material? I read this article: Dig Deep or Scratch a Large Surface and it had me thinking more in depth too. How many times have I “covered” material to meet the curriculum requirements even though I was doubtful whether the students had truly understood the information? I believe I did this a lot when I first started teaching because that is the way I was told to do it. Being in a new school with new administration, I didn’t want to make any waves and have anyone regret my presence there. I just coasted along doing what was expected and not truly understanding myself why I did this. I was learning new procedures and policies as well as gaining my footing in my own classroom so I didn’t want to buck the system at this time. After teaching the same students there for three years, I realized that I was not giving them the foundation needed to learn new information. I felt like I was just spinning my wheels and not moving in a forward direction. Just imagine that if I felt like that as a teacher and a professional, what must the students feel like?

I started to reevaluate the way I taught and began giving pre- and post tests which told me where the students were and how much they learned after being taught the material. Students could not go on to new material until they met certain criteria showing me they understood what was just taught. Of course this meant that I had many different students at many different places. This made me be more organized but I was more focused on meeting the student’s needs. Suddenly when students were less frustrated and working on their level, the whole classroom climate changed. Behavior was no longer the focus but learning was. Students started being successful and able to see the results by comparing the pre- and post test scores. Parents were excited about the progress and praised their children which only made them work harder. This system really worked and I am amazed that we have come so far away from that. Yet, I still feel I was only scratching the surface. There was so much more “meat” in what I was teaching but I just couldn’t get into it enough.

Now we are so consumed with high stakes testing and NCLB that we are no longer focusing on the student’s needs. I feel like we are focusing more on the school and society’s needs. I’m not saying that schools shouldn’t be held accountable but when we start comparing schools all over the nation that have students from different backgrounds and communities with different needs, we are comparing apples and oranges. It is no wonder to me that we are losing students from the educational system because we are setting them up for failure. I have had special education students in my class taking high stakes testing because our district decided they didn’t fit in the percentage that needed alternative testing. My students were not getting a state diploma and this test did not affect their graduation so the only thing accomplished was that they were frustrated and felt humiliated by the low ability levels. I spent all year building up their self esteem and then they take this test and felt so bad. These scores affected our AYP so it built up resentment from other teachers who knew my students affected our school’s report card but there was nothing my students or I could do. The only thing I could do is promise them that if they didn’t misbehave and if they did their best, I would reward them in my class. I couldn’t expect any more from them. This makes me wonder how students who fall through the cracks, where they don’t qualify for special education but are still having major difficulties, feel when they take this test. At least my students had a support system (me) but these other students don’t.

I have heard other teachers not wanting to try new innovative ideas in their classes because they need to “cover” all the standards required. I think we need more professional development that can show teachers how to “cover” these standards by using innovative ideas. We need to start thinking outside the box because the old ways are not working any more. But teachers do not have the time and energy to explore the possibilities and it is hard to dig yourself out of a hole when the administration keeps dirt into the hole. I think this situation is exhausting to many teachers and even causes many to leave the field. Somewhere, sometime soon, we have got to address this problem instead of just insisting that if teachers taught the standards better, students will perform better (but we aren’t going to show teachers how to do this).

Here is my suggestion to districts: why not use retired teachers to help do this? Many teachers retire because they need a break from the classroom or they want to do other things but they don’t want to lose the connection with the educational system. Retired teachers have a lot of knowledge and experience that would be lost if the district doesn’t keep them involved in some way if they are willing. I have seen many retired teachers on committees so they can stay involved in the district but they never seem to be asked to come up with a final product or used to the best of their potential. Why not ask retired teachers to serve on curriculum committees and ask them to research strategies and tools that can help teachers in the classroom? I think retired teachers would be honored to be used as a resource for their field of expertise and schools and teachers would only benefit from this. I have retired and plan to do a lot of traveling but when I am not traveling, I have been looking for resources and tools for teachers. By blogging this information, I hope to share this with teachers in a way that might make their life easier. Luckily I’m still involved in Council for Exceptional Children which is a professional organization for special education teachers. I have an outlet to share this information but I don’t have any way to share this specifically with the local school district. I have talked with other retired teachers who have tried substituting but that wasn’t really what they were looking for. Maybe this is something they would be interested in but didn’t know how to go about initiating the conversation with the district. I also think it would be a great way to help teachers have more successful lessons in the classroom and still meet the student’s needs.

These are just some thoughts about a possible solution. Sometimes I feel like I rant and rave to much about what is wrong but I don’t offer any suggestions on how to fix it. What do you think about this? Do you have any other suggestions?

Photo credit: Monceau’s Retirement Clock by Monceau


jennylu said...

Not a bad idea Pat - i'm sure there are many retirees who want to keep using their skills and make a difference. You'd have to ensure you had the right people withe the right motivations for getting involved in something like this.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the comment!:)

I recently went on a trip to China and I was able to take pictures of some really funny signs. I will post them up soon or later! :P


loonyhiker said...

jenny: you are right about getting the right people. I also never let my students go alone with volunteers since I am responsible for them. I have also learned that we need to match volunteers and their strengths in the right places to be the most effective.

Bill Gaskins said...

Every teachers for the first three years of teaching or more needs a mentor that can be available at different times---not just after school. New teachers need help during the day, with planning, advice, listening and being heard. Retirees fit the bill. Retirees can be school consultants for a few days a week to help new teachers.

Great Post!

M-Dawg said...

Retired teachers are the best resources since they know the ins and outs of the system. They've also seen the "cycle of education." How one "new" idea will be the hot idea for a few years and then another idea will come in and 10 years later the old idea comes back again.

A lot of retired teachers I know sub since they don't know what else they can do.

I like the mentor idea that Bill stated - retired teachers would be a wonderful resource for mentoring programs. They would have the time to go into a classroom to peer coach where a teacher that still teaches can't do that due to her/his teaching schedule.

Also, what about tutoring students that struggle with high stake tests?

loonyhiker said...

m-dawg: now if we could only get school districts to see these suggestions and try to put them in place. Thanks for stopping by!

Anonymous said...

In my current school we use some senior teachers on a part time basis. They often have a teaching and learning role and are used for cover. This certainly helps transition and are an invaluable to younger members of staff.

Some of these teachers are living legends and to have them in school one day and for them to then suddenly not be there can be a massive blow in schools with a potential huge vaccuum.

I think schools should manage retirement in a much more structured manner and where suitable should be phased. Obviously in some cases as I am sure we are all aware there are some circumastances where retirement is best for school and the teacher as soon as possible!

loonyhiker said...

mark: Sounds like your district knows the value of retired teachers. I liked your idea of phasing them out if at all possible. I would have been willing to do that.