Thursday, September 9, 2010

Education’s Greatest Foe: Complacency

We shall have no better conditions in the future if we are satisfied with all those which we have at present.

~Thomas Edison

In the summer of 1996 I attended Columbia University’s Teacher College weeklong writing institute. Each morning, I sat mesmerized as I listened to Kathleen Tolan and Isoke Nia share the podium and fill my vessel with information I felt I desperately needed to become a more powerful and effective teacher of writing. In the afternoon, with the gentle coaching of Sharon Hill, I immersed myself in my own writing and pushed myself to understand the writing process in a way that could only be achieved by trying the things that we ask of students. At the end of those seven days, I was invigorated and energized. I knew my learning would elevate my teaching to new levels.

I returned to my fifth grade classroom and implemented units of study and planned mini lessons with focus and poignancy. With the help of Carl Anderson who worked with me in my classroom, I tweaked and honed my conferring skills. I read Katie Wood Ray and Ralph Fletcher and I felt like there was simply not enough information available to satiate my hunger and thirst for knowledge about how to do this better.

In retrospect, there is no doubt that my professional learning curve was never greater than in my earliest years of teaching. I was uncertain and curious. I was new and I felt like I had so much to prove. I was highly motivated to work hard to be the best that I could be.

As time wore on, I achieved a level of success with my workshop that made me feel confident. Where once I sought advice from others, colleagues were now coming to me as their role model for workshop instruction. Little by little, I asked fewer questions. I read fewer books and articles. I became comfortable.

And with comfort comes complacency.

With movies like Waiting for Superman due to be released this fall and states vying for Race to the Top funding, education has moved to the public awareness hot seat. Policy makers, business people, and administrators are all weighing in on what they believe needs to happen to improve education. They promote initiatives and programs—and then wonder, why are things not getting better?

When I think about why things are not getting better, my thoughts turn immediately to complacency. Unless ALL teachers continue to push themselves, it will be as Thomas Edison stated: “We shall have no better conditions in the future.”

Education knows no greater enemy than the status quo and even good teachers no longer striving to be great are part of the problem. So the question I leave you with today is this: Have you stagnated at good? What will you do this year to outgrow your best ideas?


Sarah Baptiste said...

Hi! I just wanted to let you know that I look forward to all of your blogs. Thank you for this recent post. I know I will be referring to it whenever I feel like need motivation to try something new! I wish you all the best with all of your workshops. I'm sure they will be of great benefit to many teachers.

Kim Yaris said...

Sarah, I am so happy that my blogs lift and inspire you! I've definitely been on a "be your best" kick--wait till you see the blog I wrote for this week coming... Thanks for visiting often--I will miss you this year!