Gut check

Gallup reportThe recent research, out from the Gallup organization on levels of teacher engagement as found in the State of America’s Schools: The Path to Winning Again in Education report, was a “Whoa!” moment for me. While 55% of American students scored high on engagement, about 70% of teachers are classified as disengaged! There are various reasons given for this level of disengagement (which apparently is in line with the rest of the workforce!) and to read more you can access the report:  Gallup Report — State Of Americas Schools or a summary here. I really don’t want to believe that my fellow educators and professionals are that disengaged from what they are doing – whatever the reason.

Part of my disbelief stems from my experience in both the public and non-public sectors with educators who have been deeply engaged in their student’s lives. I have seen fellow Christians going way above and beyond in trying to connect with students and speak into their lives. These teachers attend student activities, sporting events, and write notes of encouragement. They coach, they mentor, they invite students into community. They bring out the best in each student and show them new worlds beyond the small world the student may currently be living in. Sometimes these teachers are the only island of stability and good modeling in a student’s chaotic, confusing, and discouraging environment. Sadly, I have also seen educators in both worlds who are simply putting in their time until retirement, who feel trapped and don’t have the courage to make a change. Some who are pretty cynical about kids, and some just don’t want to expend the energy anymore. We all know who these colleagues are on our own faculties, so I don’t need to go on.

For the past several years, I have been working with a school that has undergone a very significant transition – that of moving from a Christian school to being a charter school. This has meant that, while still being a school of choice for parents, the shared values base of the school has changed. The parent base has shifted from being largely supportive of teacher efforts to a lower level of parent backing and less commonality of values. The student population has higher academic needs and is more behaviorally challenging. As a result, there has been a significant change/turnover in the teaching staff. Some teachers who were effective in the previous environment found themselves overwhelmed with the new student population, and have consequently taken jobs elsewhere. As an objective observer who has had regular interaction with the staff, I have pondered what the qualities are of those teachers who remain and what accounts for their ongoing effectiveness with the new student and parent population.

What I believe is a key ingredient with the veteran teachers, who have been effective with both the Christian and the charter school experience, is their commitment level and desire to love and impact children’s lives in positive ways. They are deeply engaged – they would be part of the 30% in this survey. They have been tested by fire and have in the process re-examined who they are, what they are called to do, and have committed themselves to the mission before them. They are living out their faith, and in the process providing hope and nurturing faith in the lives of the students and adults that are before them each day.

Dan Beerens is a K-12 educational consultant and international speaker specializing in curriculum mapping and design, school improvement, teacher supervision and evaluation, and staff development. He is the author of “Evaluating Teachers for Professional Growth: Creating a Culture of Motivation and Learning” published by Corwin Press.

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