Teachers work together at a round table.

Keep Listening to Teachers

Insights from Massachusetts teachers about what they are learning and how they are responding in this unprecedented back-to-school season.

We’re all first year teachers right now.” - Sydnee Chaffee, 9th Grade ELA Teacher at Codman Academy, and 2017 National Teacher of the Year

At the Teacher Collaborative, we believe in the power of listening to and elevating the voices of teachers — those who are closest to students, and working alongside them and their families day in and day out. Teachers have unique insights into what works, what needs fixing, and how to fix it.

COVID-19 turned teachers’ worlds upside down and took away so many critical “tools of the trade” — being able to physically be with students, read their expressions and body language, comfort them, high five them for a job well done; having access to books, whiteboards, manipulatives, posters, paper, and and more. In a blink, that was all gone.

Overnight, teachers reimagined everything, bringing even the most seasoned teacher back to those early-career days of having to build new systems and routines from the ground up and asking all teachers to consider: what’s really important here?

A new school year is now well underway and teachers are making it work in a variety of modes: in-person, virtual, and every form of hybrid in between. Over Zoom, we’ve been checking in with teachers simply to ask: How’s it going? What are your hopes and fears? What do you need?

Here is some of what we heard:

“We can’t do this alone.”

One resounding theme has been the importance of collaborating with other teachers. Teaching has been under the shadow of an out-dated norm of individualism, wherein every teacher creates and executes teaching behind closed doors. The majority of teachers have experienced the benefits of collaboration—from making things easier to execute to making them more effective. But most schools are not structured around adequate collaboration time, never mind opportunities to collaborate beyond the school walls. Now, however, collaboration is not a nice to have, it’s a must have. As Sydney Chaffee, 9th grade ELA teacher at Codman Academy in Dorchester says: “We literally don’t have enough time to do this alone.”

“We’re all in the same boat.”

Teachers, from those in year one to those in year twenty-one, are all having an experience that unites them and highlights how much is the same about teaching, regardless of who, when, or where a teacher teaches. There are fundamental things teachers are figuring out: relationship building, routines, engagement.

“I’m a ‘when life hands you lemons’ kind of guy.”

There is plenty that is hard right now - even for 2020 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year Takeru Nagayoshi, who is an AP English Teacher at New Bedford High School. “We're not just academic instructors. We have to be tech specialists, attendance officers, motivational coaches, social workers, life counselors...the list goes on. Teachers have always had to wear multiple hats, but this year it feels like there's not enough time in the day to wear any of them well. And in this unprecedented setting, we're learning on the job.”

Teachers are no strangers to adversity. Overwhelmingly, teachers are bringing creative solutions and positive attitudes to their work. Yet it’s still important to hear what they’re experiencing, and to ask, How can we better support the people who support the kids?

Overwhelmingly, teachers are bringing creative solutions and positive attitudes to their work. Yet it’s still important to hear what they’re experiencing, and to ask, How can we better support the people who support the kids?

Keep listening to teachers.

At the Teacher Collaborative, we envision a world where teachers are listened to as experts in their field. We seek to share what real teachers are doing to keep students’ needs centered. This year, all teachers are being called upon to innovate and solve challenges like never before - challenges as varied as hand delivering an internet hotspot or figuring out how to lead a virtual frog dissection.

We invite you to keep listening to teachers as this year goes on. Understand their struggles, and be dazzled by their brilliance in meeting student needs every day all across our state.

Here are a few ways you can join us in this important work:

  1. Follow @TheTeacherCoLab on Instagram and check out #TeacherTakeover posts. We invite teachers to take over our Instagram account for a day to show their “day-in-the-life.”
  2. Listen to The Teacher Collaborative Podcast.
  3. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook and search the #aMAzingeducators hashtag for 100s of examples of what’s going well in schools across MA, and encourage teachers you know to share with us here.
  4. Help tell a different story about teachers. There are nearly 80,000 teachers in Massachusetts. Get to know some near you personally. Ask them what’s going well and how they are solving problems. Help us tell the stories of teachers with the training, skills, commitment, creativity, and grit to rise to this moment and figure it out.
comments powered by Disqus

Maria Fenwick

Guest Author Founder/Executive Director The Teacher Collaborative