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Are you OWNING IT?

September 11, 2013
Alex Kajitani (photo courtesy of Tom Torlakson's office)

Alex Kajitani (photo courtesy of Tom Torlakson’s office)

Today’s InterACT guest blog post comes from Alex Kajitani, California Teacher of the Year (2009) and ACT member. Alex is known to many as The Rappin’ Mathematician, and he has also written books for teachers. His first book was the The Teacher of the Year Handbook – which has some good tips not only for Teachers of the Year, but also for any teachers who would find themselves in similar situations of public engagement and advocacy. Alex’s new book is Owning It, which expands the audience of his prior book and asserts that teachers must take charge of the profession through excellence in classrooms, schools, and the public sphere.

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There’s this myth in teaching.  This myth that says you will struggle in your first few years but that, by your fourth or fifth year, you’ll be experienced, things will be easy and you’ll have your act together.

The truth is that while some years are better than others, teaching is hard every year.  And every year, as teachers, we are asked to do more and more.

We live in a time of what some theorists call “accelerating change” — with technological, cultural, social and environmental change occurring exponentially faster than in any other period in history.  And we’re feeling this firsthand in our schools, and in our profession.

Each year, the group of students that enters our classrooms is vastly different from the group a year before.  They are deeply influenced by the latest technology, the year’s hit television (or Internet) show, and new ways of thinking and operating in society.

And yet, as teachers, it is still our responsibility to ensure that they learn the academic content that someone else has deemed they learn, along with non-curricular life skills.

As teachers, it is also our responsibility to work with one another to help these kids learn — which means we have to master grown-up communication and collaboration skills.

And, as teachers, it’s our responsibility to represent our profession — and our schools and districts, and even our nation’s educational system — to the wider community, the “public,” via all of the ever-changing modes of communication.

Being a teacher today is a multi-skill, multi-faceted, multi-purpose role — a role that doesn’t end when the bell rings.

OwningItFrontCoverAfter ten years in the trenches of public education, in some of California’s poorest neighborhoods, I wrote Owning It as both an exploration of our many roles as teachers today, and a quick-reference handbook of strategies that can be pulled out to address the range of situations we find ourselves in daily in our classrooms, schools and communities.

The Three Roles Teachers Play

Role One: Teachers as Classroom Leaders

Each year in the classroom, I have students in my class, who, despite living in dire poverty, perform at the top of the chart on state tests.  Sitting next to them are students who cannot read, tell time, or speak English.   Yet I am expected to teach them all, at a level that is challenging to each of them.  The first role we play is as classroom leaders who are responsible for every kind of learning (and raising test scores) for every child who crosses our doorway, and who are accountable to students and parents.

Role Two:  Teachers as Colleagues

The days of the one-room schoolhouse are long gone, and today, the number one factor in the success or failure of a school is the relationships of the adults in the building.  Just as we teach a group of students with a wide range of abilities and experiences, the teachers and administrators we work with are vastly different in their experiences, knowledge and philosophies.

We’re not all teachers for the same reason, yet we’re all expected to do the same job.  And with 50% of our colleagues leaving this job within the first five years, the time has come for all of us to own the fact that as educators, we are truly interdependent.

Role Three:  Teachers as Public Professionals

Of course, teaching is not just what we do.  Teaching is what we are.  It doesn’t end when the last bell rings, or when vacation starts.

As a profession, we’re constantly under attack from lawmakers, parent groups and the general public who have bought into the idea that our education system is failing, and that the solution is to simply “fire all the bad teachers.”

Thus, the third role we play is as public professionals, representing our schools, our students and the whole convoluted concept of education today.  Let’s positively represent our schools and our profession in the public eye, utilize mass communication and social media to be effective advocates, and to step up as teacher leaders to create the world as it can be.

Let’s own these three roles, especially as they expand and become more complex.  And, let’s start owning it together, and show the world that the future of education is brighter than some may think, with teachers like us taking the lead in our classrooms, our schools and our communities, in one of the most rapidly-changing times in history.

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