We had just listened to a very well executed presentation about how to improve assessments so that they minimize the "chance for student error other than not knowing." We'd heard about PLCs and how to make them work. We'd heard about the power of shared assessment rubrics and the value of examining student work. We'd all drunk the kool-aid and sat smiling, basking in the glow of new learning with all its potential for impacting student growth.
Then reality began to crash in. My colleagues from another district (in that other state) began to recognize the vast gulf--the chasm--between the promise of this ideal about which they'd learned and grown excited, and the real resource and personnel limitations they knew they'd face upon arrival back home.
How are we supposed to do this? They pleaded. We're already so busy doing everything else we have to and we don't even have time to do all that--and now there's more?
The answer was obvious:
You have to stop doing something if you want to do something new the right way.
This points at yet another of the invisibles of teaching: the challenge of a changing job description.
As education has evolved, however sputteringly, the job description of the classroom teacher has evolved as well. Actually, "evolve" isn't the right term. Evolution implies change, where one feature is replaced by something new and better and lasting. Sure, some things have been replaced: online gradebooks for paper ones, document cameras for opaque projectors in many places. Our job has not "evolved" so much as it has simply grown. Maybe you could say the TQM to backwards-design to Critical Friends to PLC revolving door is another evolution, but I disagree.
If we consider all the efforts at change in our system, they've always been additive: "Do what you're doing and this too." Seldom do we pay close attention to what we are going to stop doing in order to do what is new. Our system reinforces this: PLC time is wedged into the schedule, after-school meetings are added and pennies are benevolently scraped together to compensate us for that extra time. When I think about PLC, gathering student data, TPEP, learning targets, power standards, or other things we've given acronyms to in order to hasten their departure, I have always considered these as additive to my already long list of job duties.
That's where I've been wrong, and I didn't really realize it until it was coming out of my mouth at that conference...as I was talking to those teachers lamenting how in the world they are going to do their current job and also this new stuff. The reality is that they aren't. At least, not if they want to do it well and give any of it a fighting chance at success. I told them before I even knew what I was saying: All this, this is what it means to be a teacher now, our job description has changed.
It is an uncomfortable shift. No longer should we view participation in a PLC as something added to what we do. It should be what we do, period. No longer should learning targets or reflection on our practice be seen as "one more thing" we're being asked to do. They should be what we do, period. Some would read those sentences and immediately throw their hands up: this too?! --the common refrain of the public school teacher. No: this instead.
This may seem small, but this is a complete earthshaking change in perspective for me as a professional. I need to change, and change means stopping something in order to start something. To do the new well, what will it replace?
Therein is the challenge, for all of us. What do we cross off of the job description to make room for what modern public school teaching is trying to be?