The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

What School Was Like in the “Good Old Days”

on August 30, 2017

Recently there has been a lot of support for teacher collaboration as a way to develop better teaching and better teachers. Although I agree, I realize that it is not is not easy to make collaboration happen. Today’s teachers have more than enough work to do in their planning, teaching, and paperwork, plus adapting to new responsibilities fostered by changes in national policies. There is little or no time to meet with their colleagues or teachers from other schools. I believe that school administrators should be facilitators of teacher collaboration, by scheduling teachers at the same level to have common planning periods at least twice a week. But even they don’t have much freedom to enact change.

Back in the good old days, as the principal of two very different elementary schools in two states, I was able to construct daily schedules that gave same grade teachers common planning periods every day. Sometimes I would join teachers in their planning time, but mostly I left them on their own to solve classroom problems, write new units, and even create new ways to work with struggling students.

At times, and with parents’ permission, same grade teachers were also able to exchange students who were not fitting in well in their assigned classrooms, socially or academically. Two teachers might also switch classes occasionally, bringing the pleasure of novelty to students and themselves.

But the best result at both schools was improved teaching–especially by young teachers, less stress for all teachers, and the emergence of leadership through opportunities to create new classroom practices and explain to others how to use them.

The idea of joint planning times had come a few years earlier when I was the English Department Chair at a new high school. There, the principal gave us the freedom to set schedules for our teachers—within designated time blocks for each subject. Teachers at the same grade level met to plan almost every day, and sometimes met with teachers from other levels to assure coordination throughout their program.

Aside from teacher collaboration and growth, what I would like to see is teacher autonomy in all classrooms, plus teacher leadership throughout a school. What I never dreamed of when I set up grade level common planning time, was the emergence of leadership and creativity in so many teachers and their willingness to “donate” to the school without any pressure from me.

For instance, one teacher at my first school volunteered to create and run a school store during the noon hour. Using more of her own time she trained and supervised student store workers, and met with those who wanted help to plan for the products they would make and sell. Other teachers donated time for new projects over the years, especially our “Gifted Program”, which was also voluntary for students.

At my second school one teacher offered to manage a middle school “Jobs” program by interviewing and advising students who wanted to participate, keeping track of their work time, checking the quality and reliability of their performance, and planning end-of-the-year raffles held to reward students for the amount of time they worked. Another teacher volunteered to manage students in our “Adopt-a–Road” clean ups. But, perhaps the most active contributor was our school custodian who helped by supervising student workers and then created a school re-cycling program that won an award for us.

Unfortunately, my memory is not good enough to honor all the teachers and school workers who donated so much time and effort to making our schools better places to be, or the students who participated in activities whole-heartedly because they liked school. I  only wish that today’s schools had the freedom for teachers, staff members, students and principals to do what is needed to make education a great experience for everyone instead of the drudgery it has become under national and state control.



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