Teacher As Decision Maker

9.10.15 By Claire Nuchtern

I keep losing my clipboard. Somehow, every time I transition locations throughout the school day, I seem to leave my clipboard behind. This has resulted in me running amok, introducing myself to other teachers in the building so that I can quickly ascertain if they, in fact, have seen my clipboard with the red pen attached. 

This brings us to the question: why do I need a clipboard in the first place? Well, spending my first week inside a traditional public school has been an absolute whirlwind and I can’t stop myself from writing down observations, questions and reactions. Perhaps the least understood aspect of what a teacher does is the teacher as decision maker. Every single class period, I watch as teachers make dozens and dozens of decisions. Should I redirect this student privately or silently with a hand motion or quickly call out their name? Are the students grasping this content or do I need to double back and re-explain this time with a visual? When does this student just need me to crack a joke instead of giving them a more serious lecture? When do the students need to get up and move a bit? 

People love to make comments comparing what teachers do to other professions. The most common comments have something to do with “teachers are just as important as doctors, therefore they should be paid more.” While I would certainly agree with that sentiment, I actually think that teaching is in many ways more difficult than being a physician (and I say this as a child of two physician parents — hi Mom and Dad!). Instead of working one on one with a patient and talking through their concerns and needs with them, teachers are tasked with managing and supporting the needs of up to 30 kids, at the same time. As a result, they have to make numerous split-second decisions about how to maximize their often insufficient resources to serve as many students’ needs as possible every minute of that class period. And the thing is, I want to write down as many of those instances of teacher decision making as possible. I find myself writing down word for word when my 6th-grade mentor teacher explains the thinking behind her decision making to our students. I add lots of exclamation marks when my 5th-grade mentor makes a quick teacher move that corrects whole class misconceptions. Why? Because almost exactly one year from now, I will be in the role of decision maker, tasked with supporting all of my students, in each of those minutes, class periods, weeks and months. And that will be simultaneously thrilling and terrifying. But that’s why BTR makes so much sense. 

Whenever I feel any anxiety or stress bubbling up, I remind myself how lucky I feel to have this entire year to simply learn. To observe as many effective teachers as I can. To read up on the latest statewide curriculum and think of ways to stretch it and bring in real world examples. Lucky to have high-quality math education modeled for me by my mentor teachers. Lucky to be in a cohort of simultaneously idealistic and realistic aspiring educators who give me hope for what schools could look like. And finally, lucky to have the privilege to work with the young people who I believe are the most likely to change the world for the better. 

more from Claire Nuchtern on the blog

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