Friday trip to Bloomington provides teaching inspiration

On Friday I spent my day in one of my favorite places (Bloomington, Indiana) with some of my favorite people (teachers and former students).

What better place to spend a beautiful fall day?

This school year I have the honor of serving as a member of the IU School of Education Armstrong Teaching Cohort with eight other Hoosier educators from across Indiana. The honor, funded through the Martha Lea and Bill Armstrong Fund and the Cook Group, helps teachers collaborate with each other and, perhaps more significantly, mentor teachers-to-be currently in the IU School of Education.

One of the values of working with teaching candidates is that their enthusiasm for education inspires me and reminds me of why I believe in our profession so much.

My day began as a member of a panel discussion with my fellow Armstrong teachers as we discussed the all-important first days of school with an auditorium full of outstanding future teachers. It continued as I met two former students for lunch, one of whom is considering a teaching career himself.

The day was meaningful for me on so many levels, especially since it provided me with the chance to dig myself out from underneath the mounds of papers to grade, RCD units to create, meetings to attend, and emails to respond to long enough to remember what makes teaching so fun — the people.

Our Armstrong Cohort consists of nine teachers from incredibly diverse backgrounds and experiences across Indiana. Each of them amazes me. On more than one occasion I found myself thinking, “How did I get selected to spend time with these people?!” Their enthusiasm, talent, compassion, and dedication to their students and our profession inspires me. I hope to share more of their stories here in the coming months. Their stories deserve to be told.

Just as meaningful to me, though, was the chance to interact with future teachers. These young people are the future of our profession. My conversations and interactions with them left me both hopeful for the future and determined to do my part to ensure that teaching remains a viable, worthy profession in Indiana.

I write here often about my dissatisfaction with our current political leadership in Indiana and their lack of understanding of or belief in our teachers and schools. I hope my determination to support my profession in the face of our state’s weak political leadership is never mistaken for negativity. In fact, days like Friday leave me more hopeful about the future of the teaching profession than ever. When I meet so many gifted teachers-to-be — and when one of the best kids I have ever taught joins them in considering a career as a teacher — how can I be anything but hopeful?

Because tomorrow’s teachers will bring more than enough empathy, compassion, tolerance, and competence to their classrooms and communities to heal the damage done by Indiana’s current crop of failing political “leaders.” They may be our greatest teachers, because they knowingly choose to enter a profession devalued by the lies and incompetence of elected officials constitutionally sworn to protect it. That takes incredible courage. That takes real leadership.

That’s the real value of a day like Friday. It reminds me of the value of my profession.




Teacher Appreciation Week 2014: The Art of Teaching

by Jim Lang

From Hilda Kendrick to Tony Willis to Jack Dvorak — these are the teachers who helped make me the person I am today. I appreciate them all. I thank them all. I hope I can have a similar impact on my own students. I hope I can contribute to the noble profession of teaching as they have.

As I reflect on the teachers who shaped my life, one unique quality connects them all – they were all intrinsically motivated to make the lives of their students and colleagues better.

I point this out because I think that to truly appreciate teachers we must honor those qualities that make them so exceptional.

Every great teacher in my life cared about me. Not my test scores. Not my data. Not my grades. Me.

Yes, my learning was essential, of course. But by caring about me, they ensured I learned.

These great teachers were not motivated primarily by academic standards. Or data walls. Or “highly effective” evaluations. Or merit pay. Or competition with their colleagues next door or down the hall.

These great teachers were great because they worked tirelessly to make my life and the lives of my peers better. That’s it. That’s the secret. That’s the art of teaching.

So, as we end Teacher Appreciation Week, my final appeal to those who desire to truly thank and appreciate a teacher is this – let us teach.

Indiana has been on the education “reform” rollercoaster for 12 years. New standards, more standardized testing, more accountability, more restrictions on our schools and universities, new merit pay proposals, new teacher evaluation proposals, new school corporation rating systems, the nation’s largest government-sponsored voucher program, an entirely new education agency created with no debate – none at all.

Effective teachers will share the truth about these “reforms” – that most of them are unnecessary, wasteful, and wholly ineffective. Moreover, most of these ideas dampen the very art of teaching that drives so many of us to make a difference in the lives of our students.

So, as I reflect on the past, I also ponder the future. I worry that this art of teaching that drives the truly great teachers is being diminished by a steady stream of bad ideas. I suspect that teaching is, in fact, a dying art if we continue down the same path.

And yet, I know that the desire to appreciate teachers also reveals a real belief in us and a genuine concern for our best interests. This gives me great hope for the future of our profession.

As we end Teacher Appreciation Week, know that the best way to honor all teachers is to simply respect us. Listen to us. Trust us. Believe in us. Support us. Work with us. Join with us to stop this steady stream of bad ideas in Indiana. Join with us to advocate for ideas that really work.

And most importantly, just let us teach.

This really is the best way to show your appreciation. It’s the best way to help us serve your children and our communities better.

It is the best way to ensure that the art of teaching continues.

The best way to thank us is to simply let us do what we love.