The answer: much-needed empathy.
As coach of the English department in an urban-Philadelphia high school, I spend a lot of time in classrooms but hardly any time teaching. However, when one of our 12th-grade teachers was suddenly hospitalized, I offered to teach her AP Literature class until she returned. I hadn’t formally taught in nearly four years, and the experience reshaped how I view the classroom, my colleagues, and the relationship between teachers and administrators.
Some background first. I strive to be a defender of teachers. While four years of teaching taught me the challenges of this work, coaching has taught me how important it is to equip teachers with the right resources and supports to do their jobs well. I’ve seen teachers go from floundering to thriving in just a few months of coaching. I’ve also worked with teachers who actively resist. Some are hesitant to trust my feedback or our conversations, and occasionally reject the process altogether. When I was in the classroom, I remember frequently questioning my coach, but ultimately embracing their perspective and eagerly trying out their suggestions in my classroom. I saw coaching as a tool to make me a better teacher. Who wouldn’t want that?
It may be presumptuous to consider summer break when spring break hasn’t even made an entrance. But, on this day in February, I’m asking you to do just that. And I’m asking you to think teacher professional development.
I know! Don’t stop reading!
Every summer, the National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH) offers educators the opportunity to study with university professors at their respective institutions. The course offerings are extensive, relevant, and scintillating. This year, the available seminars and institutes cover topics such as “American Women at War,” “From Harlem to Hip-Hop: African-American History, Literature, and Song,” and “Muslim American Identities, Past and Present,” to name a few. Not your typical professional development...nor your typical summer.