Outside of the Class

by Caroline Freudig

1992. That’s the year I started teaching. I’ve been a teacher for 26 years now, more than half my life. Over those years, I’ve experienced quite a bit of change but nothing like what I’m going to go through this school year. I am back in the classroom after having been a non-classroom, district resource teacher for six years. While I’m not looking forward to leaving the position I’m in and the work I’ve been doing with our Kahua Kaua‘i Teacher Induction Program, I am looking forward to applying so much of what I’ve learned these past six years to the work I will do with my first graders.

To begin with, I am a much better teacher now than I was six years ago. My work with adults has been challenging but has helped me hone my teacher skills. As a district resource teacher and a teacher mentor, I was pushed to really think about purpose and intent, in particular. Why does the beginning teacher-mentor PD day include a huaka‘i (trip) to the Kaua‘i Museum? How does the trip align to the overall outcomes of the session? In what ways will our beginning teachers benefit by leaving their students for the day to attend this session? Why should our complex area spend federal funds to pay for subs for these teachers to attend the session?

These are not easy questions but they drove me to really reflect on the ‘why.’ I know that when I’m back in the classroom this school year, I will utilize this type of reflection when creating lessons for my students. Maybe instead of focusing on questions like What will we do today? Or even What will we learn today? I will ask myself reflective questions like Why will we learn this? Why are calendar skills important? How does this align to student standards? How else can students learn, practice, attain, and demonstrate these skills?

Another way my teaching will benefit from having been a resource teacher is that I now have a different perspective of our education system. Prior to being a resource teacher, I mostly dealt with colleagues at my school and didn’t have much interaction with other teachers from across our state. The past six years provided me with the opportunity to engage in conversations with colleagues, administrators, department of education employees, board of education members, community members, parents, and more from all over the state. These conversations allowed me to see and hear perspectives that I would have missed if I had stayed in the classroom and these diverse perspectives will help me create an equitable and effective classroom.

These opportunities to work with such a diverse cross section of the public education landscape also helped me to expand my social media networks (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram). These connections with professionals from across the state have in turn lead to connections with others across the country and even across the world.  All this connecting with others has provided me with novel ideas that I will bring back into my classroom this year. Ideas such as not having a behavior chart and including more physical activity for my students. Without taking time away from my role as a classroom teacher, I would have missed the rich experiences that will now color my switch back to the class.

Why have I chosen to share these thoughts with you? Well, what it boils down to is this: I strongly believe that to foster the continued growth of our best classroom teachers, at some point in their teaching career, they should be given the opportunity and should be highly encouraged to step outside the four walls of their classroom. They should spend time in a non-classroom teacher position, at their own school or beyond.

This won’t be easy as classroom teachers frequently hate leaving their classrooms and their students. I know this first hand. I was one of those teachers who never called in sick and hated when my principal sent me to some professional development somewhere because it meant I wasn’t with my students and I wouldn’t be there to teach them. However, having taken the opportunity to leave the classroom and work in such a position, I know that the professional growth I’ve had the past six years could not have happened if I had still been teaching 3rd grade and had never left. Teachers’ roles should become more flexible to include more of these out of the class opportunities. The benefits to our expertise and our teaching far outweigh the drawbacks.