I was that little girl who pretended to be a teacher, who lined up stuffed animals or the neighborhood kids in my “classroom.” Since then, I never faltered at wanting to teach in some form. Every job I had involved kids, and every educational path I took was to become a teacher.
On top of my ambition, I was given the best possible upbringing and chance to be an educated teacher… However, as a student and a new teacher, I did not receive training in evidence-based practices.
I learned programs and curriculum, not methods.
I learned people’s opinions and advice, not science and research.
I was guided by the pages of a glossy, well-marketed manual, not by the necessary foundational skills.
I assumed my leaders, instructors, and administrators were the experts and knew the most effective academic path for children. I assumed I was learning from valid and unbiased research, because why would we ever risk the futures of children on speculation?
I went into my first classroom with the energy of a young adult determined to change the world. I poured myself into my classes, and I taught as I had learned to teach….but about 8 years into my career, I learned about the cognitive way that students learn to read. With attention to sounds, phonemic awareness, and the code to reading, words started to make sense to me in a whole new way. My mind felt blown at how rational the process was, at how efficiently children learned to read…. and at how terribly mistaken my mentors and professors had been.
I felt mislead, and worse, I felt disheartened about the potential impact. I understood that when I made mistakes as a teacher, it was not some product that came out slightly dented; it was a child… It was a child I did not support or a child who missed out on what they needed or deserved. When children have become your life and your purpose, this weight of responsibility can feel overwhelming.
This is where grace comes in.
To shift my thinking and my practices, I first had to choose grace for myself… For being imperfect in my skills and understanding, for the kids I did not teach to read, and for not knowing what I know now.
Teachers deserve this grace.
Teachers are the frontlines of education. They create an entire academic and social world for our children every year. Teachers play a thousand roles and teach a million lessons, planned or unplanned. Teachers are also the most pivotal players for a successful shift in literacy, and to that end, how we feel as teachers cannot be ignored.
When strategizing how to change reading methods in schools, we often focus on professional development schedules, how to find the budget needed, or which curriculum to adopt, but the very core of the teaching profession is our hearts. It is our hearts that allow us to create engaging and caring learning environments for children… but it is our hearts that can make this shift difficult in an immeasurable way.
As teachers, we often feel the significance of our pursuit to educate each child entrusted to us. If we made mistakes because of what we did not know, how did that impact all the kids we cared for?
Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.”
We must do better, and we must do it now. Why? Because the recipients of our knowledge and practices are children….
For myself, I had to choose grace then and sometimes, need to remember that grace now….. because, like many teachers I know, I have been dedicated throughout; I have given more energy and love than my job title asked for; I have always tried to really know each child and support their individual needs to the best of my abilities.
I know this grace will be needed to help many of us move forward. We can have pride in the many children we have supported while still learning ways to gently shift in our mindset and in our practices… even if it runs counter to what we were taught or have taught for years.
The good news is that the knowledge of how to support our students in learning to read is vast. The research base continues to grow, become more specific, and get translated into terms we can understand and apply in our classrooms.
Let’s stop the battles, the snide remarks, the blind devotion to beliefs in the face of facts. As a community of educators, let’s read the research and ask questions, rather than be committed to practices out of loyalty. Let’s learn from one another, rather than supply specific experiences or opinions as fact. Let’s find the patience to help one another grow and gain more knowledge in an already complex and demanding profession.