Early Teamwork Gave New Teacher a Balanced Perspective
My son learned how to ride a bike just as the balance bike was having a renaissance. A balance bike has no pedals and requires the rider to propel it by pushing off with his feet, providing the rider with instant and constant feedback about his balance.
In contrast, a pedal bike with training wheels focuses on propulsion, because the training wheels manage the rider's balance. A rider may transition off a training-wheel bike still unaware of how to balance, so we opted for the balance bike. In the move to a standard bike, my son learned to engage the pedals in about two minutes, and he is now a confident and competent rider. Although he scraped his knees like everyone else, he gained proficiency faster than his peers using training wheels.
My son's experience on a bicycle was parallel to my own first experience in the classroom. As a student teacher, I was fortunate enough to be working in an elementary classroom with an experienced educator who was also fulfilling the requirements of his administrative internship. He chose to focus on both formal and informal classroom observation.
Because of his administrative program requirements, he accelerated my level of responsibility in the classroom. During the first two weeks of school, he handed over progressively more responsibility through the start of the third week. By day 15, I had full charge of all classroom responsibilities. However, I also had a full-time mentor in the classroom providing instant and constant feedback as I learned to balance myself in the classroom.
Coplanning and coteaching were consistent factors in our daily routine, and we were able to have meaningful conversations about where we were and where we needed to go in terms of our students' learning needs. His feedback ranged from nonverbal expressions during a lesson to multifaceted observation protocols that catalogued every aspect of teacher and student in a specific lesson. Just like my son on the balance bike, my every move was measured, analyzed, and fed back to me so that I might stay upright.
When I completed my student teaching and the district hired me to teach middle school math, I found a similar situation. Because the department was made up of mostly new teachers, the district chose to employ an instructional coach to support the two middle schools, intending to harmonize their instructional programs.
We formed a professional learning community that met after school and on Saturdays to learn from our coach and plan lessons together. We also received release time to observe one another teach the lessons we coplanned. We gave common assessments and then analyzed the results together.
The experience was extremely social, as if we were all fingers on the same hand working to achieve the common goal of student learning. Once again, the mutual feedback was instant and constant, and we all felt successful in our work as we saw student learning accelerate.
Because of those early teaching experiences, my perspective on teaching to this day is oriented toward collegiality and teamwork. I cannot imagine beginning my teaching career without the degree of support that I was given, and I feel extremely fortunate in that regard.
Learning to teach is not something that can be done in a vacuum. Costly as it is to provide mentors, release time, and additional compensation in the form of stipends, we owe it to our children to provide an environment that nurtures quality teaching by working together, supporting one another, making one another better, and affecting a positive change in the minds of our children.
Bryan Schmidt teaches 6th grade at Mountainview Elementary School in Ferndale, Wash., and is a member of the New Educator Research and Development team at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash.
ASCD Express, Vol. 7, No. 10. Copyright 2012 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit www.ascd.org/ascdexpress.