Out of the Classroom and Out of Touch

If you don’t teach in a classroom, you are out of touch with what classroom teachers are dealing with. This is a statement people will argue over and defend on both sides. Consultants will charge you obscene amounts of money to come in and tell you how to do a job they have not done in years or decades. School book clubs are formed around books written by many of these same individuals. We are inspired by keynote speakers only to have the message fall flat when we return to the reality of our own districts or schools. Personally, I always prefer having someone tell me how to do my job if they are doing my job and doing it today.

For me, I am ending my second year “out” of the classroom and in my new role as a Learning Commons Director. For those who don’t know what that means, as Learning Commons Director I oversee the video production lab, maker space, fabrication lab, library and occasionally have the hygiene talk with stinky JH boys. As I near the end of the second year away from my own classroom, I have to say, I am beginning to lose touch. Yes, I work with teachers and students every day. Yet, I have not had to live with the new instructional demands or teaching initiatives put on teacher’s shoulders. Many days I don’t sit down at my desk or get a lunch period because I am teaching lessons, talking books or learning which Beyblades are better for attacking or defending. However, I have also not had to meet grade deadlines, respond to angry parents or have my work scrutinized by state data or growth measures. Bottom line, in just two years away, I am losing touch with the day to day grind of being a classroom teacher. Heck, on most days I can use the restroom when I feel the need instead of waiting for a bell.

Now, there are those that will say if you were once a classroom teacher, you are always a classroom teacher. They are wrong. The pace of change in the classroom right now is moving at a breakneck pace. Teachers who take a one year leave of absence come back to a system that has evolved and moved on. New instructional strategies, resources and initiatives are constantly changing the landscape of education in our schools. Teachers in the classroom struggle to keep up, so how can those that are not in the classroom even hope to?

With that in mind, I have a few things I have to keep in mind to make sure I don’t completely lose touch and become another one of “those” people.

Work With Kids

This should be a no-brainer, but it is critically important. If I were to go into an admin position to hide in an office, I am out of touch. If I wrote a book about being a relevant educator and don’t regularly work with students, I am out of touch. If I pontificate that kids deserve it, then I need to be with kids or I am out of touch. If I travel the country on a speaking tour but can’t handle a classroom of 3rd graders doing a project, I am out of touch. It is really that simple. We all went into this business for the kids and it is with the kids we must be.

Be Humble and Honest

Some of the best and most influential educators I know are humble and honest. This includes those in and out of schools. Dean Shareski is someone I find incredibly humble, honest and one I see as very much in touch with the realities of teaching despite not being in a classroom. Another example would be Amber Teamann who is an administrator I have great respect for. Through every interaction I have ever had with her, she is a humble ambassador for what is right and good for kids and her teachers.

Social media has made this element tough in recent years. There is a great deal of noise that distracts all of us and pushes many to lose touch. If I am purely using social media to promote myself and my work, I am out of touch. If I share something, get pushback from teachers and don’t engage in conversation, I am out of touch. If I think I can inspire educators with lame quotes aimed at gaining RTs, I am out of touch. Social media can be a powerful method to stay in touch with those doing the real work if used for connection instead of just self-promotion.

Listen to Teachers

Anyone who is making decisions or leading PD that impact teachers should be listening to teachers. This is especially true for administrators, parents, and consultants who all have ideas about what teachers should be doing. Whether I am consulting with a school, presenting at a conference or leading a PLC meeting in my building, if I don’t listen to the teachers I am out of touch. The biggest issue all of us out of the classroom have is forgetting what teachers deal with and are going through. It’s not rocket surgery to know the best way to tackle this is having regular conversations with teachers and keep a finger on the pulse.

I love my role in the Learning Commons but I recognize the very real danger of losing touch with the classroom teacher role. In my role in my building and the various groups outside of my school, I am lucky enough to work with, I want to always be someone who is in touch with teachers and more importantly with the kids. The hallmark of someone who has lost touch is when the phrase “best for kids” is a cute quote on a landscape image and not the foundation of the work we do.

10 thoughts on “Out of the Classroom and Out of Touch”

  1. I’m happy to see your forward thinking in this potential problem.

    This is a slightly different topic but the same concept at a lower level in the hierarchy: teachers being out of touch with “the real world”.

    The blessing of a four day school week is educators can use the fifth day to observe the industry in the local community.

    Or teacher internships would be an awesome opportunity.

    Kudos again to you for your forward thinking and proactiveness.

    1. Matthew,

      I think you have certainly hit on a reality we often ignore in schools. We are saying we want to prepare kids for the “real world” but are we ourselves in touch with it? Are we creating learning that matches the world they will live and work in? I think we can make a strong argument on both sides. Personally, I think if we scaled back on the content being asked of teachers to teach and allow them to connect and collaborate with their local community the outcome would be pretty impactful.

      1. Having recently sat through some really convincing sales pitches for liberal arts colleges that are recruiting my son, my current thought process is that we should just stop trying to be in touch with the real world. Mostly, this is because it’s changing faster than it’s practical to try to keep up with.

        I’m not saying that trying to stay cognizant of new tools and the thought processes they engender, and trying to shift our instructional practices to utilize them, isn’t of value–it is–and we should keep up the best we can. But to think that the technologies used in the real world are the technologies that will be used in the real world 10, 5 or even 2 years from now is foolish.

        How we can best help our students is to (1) give them a strong foundation of basics (the old boring “core” subjects we have traditionally taught–can I read, do arithmetic and interpret graphs), (2) teach them how to filter and use the gargantuan and growing pile of information that is instantly accessible to them and (3) provide them with challenging problems to solve, then help them develop their toolset for solving problems.

        1. Dave,

          Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. I think you have hit on something I often think about when it comes to the so-called “real world” prep. We are constantly trying to evolve and adapt but in reality, I think there are some, as you put it, core skills every kid should have. I think the more important shift I see needed in schools is teaching kids how to cope with change and being able to adapt. Too many kids are stagnant in their skill sets and see failure as something to be avoided.

        2. Being in touch with the real world is much more than technology. It’s culture, attitudes, demographics, economics, etc. of the local community and beyond. Local industry is a great place to observe and can carry authentic weight in offering creative problem solving scenarios you speak of.

  2. Josh, I consider our learning commons to be a critical classroom in our school, so I still consider you a classroom teacher. That said, thank you for stating so eloquently the thoughts that have circulated my head so fervently. While I appreciate the ideas and energy of so many individuals “on the circuit,” it is those that spend their days as teachers who I regard the most heavily when seeking advice or feedback.

    There are so many incredible things I would like to do with my students. I love to learn and to bring that to my classroom. Yet there are hundreds of amazing lessons and ideas I have generated only to have them put aside do to needs of my students, schedule conflicts I cannot resolve, or many other circumstances out of my control.

    We do the job because we love kids and teaching is our passion. I stay in the classroom because of this passion. When I have a moment free from writing lessons, feedback or email responses to parents, I try to share this passion on my blog or social media, but this time is rare and so instead of being an author and PD guru, I am a pretty awesome teacher. It’s taken me a while to realize that I’m really okay with that, and I bet my students would agree.

    1. Tracy,
      Thanks for the reply and sharing your thoughts. I can tell by your comments that you truly have a passion for teaching and we need more like you!

  3. Josh,

    I think you’re still pretty close to the realities of the classroom, so I wouldn’t worry about being out of touch if I were you. I agree that the demands of classroom teaching in public schools, in particular, have become more intense. Teachers have less time and autonomy in general.

    After 18 years working directly in schools, consulting offered me a more flexible career alternative, and I believe that educators should have different career paths. As a consultant for the last 8 years, I consider myself lucky to have the flexibility and opportunities that I have had. I’ve been able to visit many more schools and learn from them and this would not be possible if I were still in the classrooms. Consulting has also afforded me flexibility in terms of caring for my own kids. I’ve stayed in touch as much as I can by teaching graduate courses, seeking coaching type gigs when I can, and going to PD events from time to time, but you are right. It is not the same as being in the classroom every single day for 180 days a year. I do think that some people can find ways to support educators in classrooms with authenticity.

    I’m also tired of the relentless promotion going on social media from people who are in and out of classrooms. I get that consultants and edupreneurs have to promote their services, specialties, and books in order to get work. I certainly promote my stuff, but I think there’s a balance to be found in this that I need to be aware of constantly. I think the conference scene plays into this quite a bit. Many conferences seem to bring in people without a lot of thought; they hire the “it” people that they often see at other events without consideration of their consulting/teaching status or the quality of their message. This results in a lot of worshipping of edu gurus which I think is unnecessary. Frankly, many of the best educators probably could care less about participating in this game because they are knee deep in their classrooms doing the work that really matters.

    At any rate, thanks for the ideas for keeping in touch with the realities of the classroom. Good food for thought!

    1. Lucy,

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I do appreciate folks such as yourself who try to keep connected while also recognizing the value of the work in the classroom. As for the social media comment, I couldn’t agree more. It seems like everyone has their own hashtag and are trying to see you something. I see some of the best educators I once connected within twitter moving out and into other spaces for this very reason. Your final comment certainly resonated with me. Many teachers are so overwhelmed that the thought of doing something extra or stepping out to consult/present/share is not even on their radar.

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