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Chalk Talk: Jack Czajkowski, a teacher’s voice

Jack Czajkowski, of Hadley, is an assistant professor of Education at Elms College and a teacher-consultant with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project.

Jack Czajkowski, of Hadley, is an assistant professor of Education at Elms College and a teacher-consultant with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project.

By Jack Czajkowski

This is a time of great change in public schools in the commonwealth of Massachusetts, with new curriculum standards in English and math — and likely soon, in science. In June of 2011, new regulations for teacher evaluation were adopted, evaluations that lean on MCAS scores, unannounced observations and student feedback.

Rather than a crossroads, teacher education today feels like a Boston rotary with changes coming from every direction.

As a longtime middle school science teacher, current teacher of teachers at Elms College in Chicopee, and parent of elementary students, I see the rapid changes in education through a few different lenses. Rather than sharing only my perspective, you will be best served by hearing the comments of some of my students from Elms, a mix of novice and veteran teachers who wrestle with these changes everyday. I invited them to share what they have learned about teaching along the way.

Emily teaches English at a Catholic high school in the lower Valley. She wrote that, “Mark Twain said that, ‘Teaching is like trying to keep 32 corks underwater at the same time.’ With a task so daunting, being able to provide our educators with the resources, materials, and skills necessary to achieve student success is as important as ever.” Catherine, a teacher in training, had this to say: “We as teachers need to stay in tune with the times, so education about new social media and other interactions is KEY.”

Kevin, who teaches high school math, wrote: “There are so many requirements for new teachers in their first few years that I have to choose between planning a lesson, completing mentoring, or fulfilling a college course requirement.” Maria, who taught for many years before going back to school to earn a graduate degree, said: “Teachers wear many hats. They are educators, disciplinarians, social workers, and parents. They are the first to be criticized for anything that goes wrong. Teachers need a bit more leeway in their classrooms. With this rigid curriculum in place, the teacher is in a race to complete what is required.”

In our course, we talk about uncovering what is important — rather than covering as many ideas as you can pack into 180 days. Ryan, who teaches business at an area high school, wrote: “People believe that teachers are to blame for a student being unsuccessful, but student investment, home life, and parent involvement also play a role. As the stakes are raised, parents and teachers must rally together to support the education of our youth.”

From Mike B, in the midst of a career change with a background in technology, had this to say: “The role of collaboration in teacher education, and education in general, has never been more in demand and necessary. It undergirds our social structure, and is essential in the workplace and the democratic experiment.”

Back when I was a student, I would flip to the end of my math book to check my answers, hoping to find that I was on the right path. There is no back of the book for teachers.

Teachers work with the ultimate variable: students. And it is a challenge to prepare teachers who are not exactly sure where — or with whom — they will work. Kelly, who is new to teaching, after a week of taking the Massachusetts Tests for Educators Licensure, wrote: “As someone who has always seen from the side of a student I never realized how much passion went into being a teacher. You are constantly learning to create the best possible lessons for your students.”

The last word goes to Mike D, an English teacher at a Springfield high school: “In today’s rapidly changing shifts in education, administrators and teachers are given little time to adjust to the sea change, yet harsh evaluations are under way — be careful as teacher’s morale is down; we need to keep our heads up, pat each other on the back, and support each other more now than ever before.”

Jack Czajkowski, of Hadley, is an assistant professor of education at Elms College and a teacher-consultant with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project.

I appreciate all the comments here, and I hope people pay special attention to the last!

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