Fatima Parker, Special Education Teacher, Jack Jouett Middle School
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
The most challenging aspect of my job is balancing teaching grade-level standards and lifelong skills (i.e. communication, literacy, number sense). The balance includes reorganizing priorities to meet individual student needs and state expectations. This presents difficulty because some students lack the foundational skills to become proficient with grade-level expectations. Frameworks, pacing guides and other curricula maps rarely allow for the remediation necessary to bring students to proficiency. Moreover, the A-F grading system emphasizes work output over work input. For me, assigning grades is conflicting, especially when a student’s effort and grit far outweigh the score. I find that the work I do to teach children intrinsic values of success is often undermined by the emphasis put on report cards, GPAs and standardized assessment scores. Mitigating the influence of grades makes maximizing the power of learning challenging, but I value every bit of the process!
What is the most common misconception about your job?
“Teaching is easy; anyone can do it.” I’ve heard this expression many times and have even uttered it myself before having my own classroom and caseload. From the sidelines (as observer, volunteer, policy maker, etc), teaching can seem very, “I teach, you learn.” But it’s not quite as simple. The planning alone can take longer than the execution; just as well, so can the assessment thereof. And even during execution, there is much to consider: varying student levels & individual needs, interest levels, behavior management, and much more. Additionally, teaching rarely stops at content, which truly would be much easier. Our work often includes teaching the soft skills of emotional intelligence necessary for academic learning and social adjustment. And that’s not easy (see Question One).
Where do you see the teaching field in five years?
Ironically, technology is creeping its way to the front-and-center model that teachers have long abandoned. Many students have their own computers/tablets right in front of them in order to access content and submit work. In five years, I think that teachers will serve as facilitators of that technology. Already, teachers spend a bulk of instructional time teaching students how to navigate technology. Students are able to access their work remotely and utilize resources via the internet that far outweigh a single teacher’s repertoire. I believe the teacher’s role will be minimized in that they will serve to pose questions, post assignments, and provide feedback. I believe that by 2020, much of public school education will feature online components that do not necessitate a student’s presence in the classroom. Nor the teacher’s.
What outside experience best prepared you to become an educator?
From hundreds of students in schools across the DC Metropolitan Area to the eight children at home, I witnessed my mother captivate, motivate and educate young children for over twenty years in areas of life not exclusive to academics. As the daughter of an educator, I visited and decorated classrooms, observed teachers work with different students in different settings, assisted with instruction, graded papers and much more. This was just my preteen years. During my teens, I played “school” at home with my siblings, worked in daycare centers, volunteered at youth (and senior) centers and interned at a school for students with special needs. I have also traveled abroad and witnessed firsthand the impact of education (or lack thereof) on the quality of life. These experiences coupled with my inherited destiny have prepared me for the responsibility of educator.