by: Kewanta Brooks
Like most new teachers, I was excited and a little nervous at the same time. However, despite my nerves, I felt more than ready to take on the task of educating young people. I received training in content, engagement, and management. Not to toot my own horn, but I was an excellent student. I excelled in all of my classes and passed the certification with flying colors. My job interviews were a cakewalk and I got hired by my first choice immediately.
Oh but reality.
Reality hit me like a shiny new bullet train with a destination to my own private hell. This was no longer rehearsal people. The bells ring loud. The chairs wobble. The lights are bright. The children...let’s take a quick breather...Oh Lord, the children.
The children are breathing and emotional beings. They have real-life issues. They have different learning abilities. They crave social acceptance. But most of all, they don’t seem to realize (or care) that they are at school...to learn...by me...the teacher.
Absolutely nothing prepared me for life as a teacher. In the classroom, I struggled every day. I had no control over the students. I was drowning in the “must-dos” like attendance, grading papers, and making lesson plans. Reading and interpreting the curriculum was a joke that I never got and was never funny. The best I could do was pray. Like, on my knees, begging Jesus “Please don’t let me permanently ruin these kids’ lives” kind of prayers.
Outside of the classroom, I could not enjoy life. I was too busy trying to survive. Sleep and my appetite were fleeting. So much so that I lost thirty pounds by mid-October. By mid-November, I wanted to grab my purse in the middle of the school day and walk away from the classroom forever.
Ultimately, I decided to stay. Maybe, it was the determination not to quit what I started. Maybe, I was too physically weak to move due to malnourishment. At any rate. I did not walk away. Instead, I opened my eyes and observed what was happening around me. Some teachers looked just as worn out as me. However, others were actually thriving. They were laughing at the end of the day. They were leaving shortly after dismissal. Their students respected them and followed directions. Even more, their students were doing very well on benchmarks.
The lesson was clear. If I wanted to be highly effective in the classroom and have the time and strength to properly care for myself, I needed to do what the other highly effective teachers were doing. I had to become a CASE worker. I had to Copy and Steal Everything!
Observing other teachers and implementing their strategies in my classroom was the best professional development I have ever received. Sitting through, what was sometimes, mandatory one-time sit-and-get PD sessions was usually a complete waste of my time. I needed to know what to say, how to say, and when to say certain things to my students. I needed to learn how to engage and motivate them. I needed to learn actual and tangible strategies, not just theory.
Observing the highly effective teachers down the hall literally turned me into a highly effective teacher. I became a master of lesson design, engagement, and management. Every minute of my instructional block was planned and prepared for. Random and frequent curveballs (picture day, field trips, fire alarms, IEPs, new student) did not fog up my glasses. My students’ benchmark scores turned around. They even began outperforming students in other classrooms.
And the best part. My stress level decreased. My weight picked back up and my skin cleared. #Selfcare!
By my third year in the classroom, I was a sought-after teacher instructor and model classroom teacher. I split my time between the classroom and training other teachers - both novice and experienced. I was also named Teacher of the Year. I was able to accomplish this, not because I had hours and hours of PD hours under my belt; but rather, by doing what other highly effective teachers were doing.
If you want to be highly effective you have to do what highly effective educators are doing. Observe the teachers down the hall. If you like it and it works then steal it. Ask your administrator to get you a substitute so that you can observe other teachers for half a day or a full day.
95% of PD workshops and sessions were a waste of my time because I did not receive practical tools that I could implement in the classroom right away. Also, at times the information was not relevant to me, my students, or the subject. After doing extensive research, I learned that most educators feel this way about mandatory professional development. This appears to be a problem across the board.
When asked, “What kind of professional development do you need?” teachers answered, almost universally, sessions that were relevant to their students and content, rigorous, engaging, and that they would have access to beyond a one-time workshop. From this, Elite Teacher Academy was born.
Elite Teacher Academy is an online professional development eCourse marketplace for teachers by teachers. Anyone can take a course or even sign up to teach a course. I started Elite Teacher Academy because “the teacher down the hall” that you need to observe and learn from may teach in another district or even state.
So, Awesome Human...Who most inspired you? Who are/were your official or unofficial mentors? How did they help you become better educators? If you are an effective teacher, do you have an open-door policy? Do you allow other teachers to observe you? Why or why not?
Thanks for spending this time with me and happy teaching!
Kewanta Brooks is the Founder of Elite Teacher Academy and creator of ABC Engage. Mrs. Brooks is a nationally certified teacher trainer with specialties in classroom management, differentiated instruction, new teacher training, and elementary science. Mrs. Brooks’s upcoming book, “What Willy Wonka Taught Me About Parental Involvement” is for teachers and administrators looking to make real connections with parents for the benefit of the students.
Instagram: @kewantabrooks and @eliteteacheracademy