How would you start the conversation?

How would you start the conversation?

This morning, I had an opportunity to speak with a group of education majors at St. Cloud State University. These students are about to complete their student teaching and enter the job market.

Just four years ago, when these teachers were beginning their college educations, the majority of people held teachers in very high esteem. Now, teachers are increasingly being portrayed as lazy, incompetent, and bad for America – not to mention the face of wasteful government spending. Thankfully, it’s not all doom and gloom, but the world of teaching they’re entering in 2011 is quite different than the one I entered in 2001.

However, these teachers didn’t seem overly concerned with this recent shift. They are pursuing their goal despite this additional scrutiny and uncertainty. I admire them for their attitude and they reminded me how thankful I should be for the opportunity to be a teacher. These student-teachers are sharp, eager, thoughtful, and open. I would be proud to teach with any of the students I met today, but I know the road that awaits them won’t be easy to navigate on their own.

After presenting on the topic of engaging 21st Century Learners, I talked with a few small groups of students about their concerns about entering the teaching world. In conversations, they were remarkably receptive to the call to preserve their students’ senses of creativity and curiosity – to create leaders and problem solvers. They were incredibly perceptive of effective use of technology, voicing some concerns about the way that their cooperating teachers either ignored technology completely or refused to let students use the technology tools in their classrooms.

These eager teachers worried most about working alongside veteran teachers who may resist the need to change. They were concerned about being kept from integrating technology, engaging students, and experimenting with new ways of teaching because their colleagues would either ignore them or reject their ideas completely. They had already met with some resistance from their cooperating teachers, which they respected, but now that they’re just months away from being in their own classrooms, they feel unsure about how to convince colleagues to give new ideas and teaching methods a chance.

A few of their questions stuck with me:

“How do I approach a teacher in my same subject area or grade level if I want to try something new?”

“How do I let a teacher know that they’re doing something that seems like it’s not right for students?”

“How do I motivate an experienced teacher to make even a small change that will help students?”

Of all the worries these new teachers could have, these were their most pressing concerns today. They wanted to know how to take risks and help students learn in environments they perceive as dedicated to preserving the status quo.

What’s the best way to answer these questions? What advice would you have for these eager and ambitious young teachers?

The conversations I had today reminded me about how important it is to listen to and work with new teachers. It’s easy to resist a call to change and write it off as just the voice of inexperience. However, I believe that meaningful change can only come about by heeding all voices and being receptive to new ideas. Knowing how hesitant the new teachers are about broaching the issue of change, I need to understand how much easier the discussion would be for them if I welcomed them into it instead of waiting for them to bring up the subject.

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  • Jon

    It sounds like they want to take some risks. I think that is a good thing. I think too often the teaching profession does not encourage this. First of all it is just plain and simple hard to do. Implementing a new idea in education is like trying to change a tire on a moving car. When do we stop? We don’t. Seeing their questions makes me feel good about their future as educators.

    • Ryan McCallum

      I love the analogy of changing a tire on a moving car. No wonder they approach this simple idea with so much trepidation.

      I felt exactly the same way you do after hearing their questions.

  • Ryan

    I think that finding a healthy balance while remaining true to oneself is the key. I believe in the TPACK model and its capacity to include everyone at the table where not only technology, but pedagogy and content still have their place. The passionate teacher who is all abou the tools is no better then the technology opponent who refuses to try a tech tool for student learning.

    • Ryan McCallum

      I was so happy to see these new teachers talking in this way today, Ryan. They told stories of teachers who were proud of having a SMART Board, even though it wasn’t even hooked up to anything. It was just a screen for a projector. This same teacher didn’t want students touching the board. Just having tools doesn’t help. Using them incorrectly is worse.

      I’ve got to learn more about TPACK. Do you have any links to resources?

  • Josh

    Ryan I am glad you had such a great experience working with these new teachers. Here is another resource I have used before on the TPCK model particularly in looking at teacher/program development. Go to and search for Koehler and TPCK. They speak about a study on online content creation in relation to TPCK, but they do a decent job of looking at it from a holistic perspective and provide a good reference list.

    • Ryan McCallum

      Josh – Thank you for a phenomenal resource. I’ve downloaded a few of the free articles. Some of the pay ones look like they may be worth checking out, too.

  • Choc0013

    I think a big thing is communication. For example, if a teacher has concerns about the classroom techniques or policies of another teacher, I would suggest finding out more about why that teacher does things the way they do to understand their position better. Then maybe frame concerns as questions such as “do you think there’s other ways to teach them that concept?” If it’s an issue of violating discrimination or other teacher policies and there’s evidence, that would warrant notification and intervention of a superior.

    • Ryan McCallum

      I think what you’re saying about understanding the other teacher is right on. Every time I’ve ever been confused by another teacher’s behavior, I’ve found that it helps so much to just get to know that teacher in a open, non-confrontational way. The times I’ve sat and stewed or complained to others have only ended unproductively at best. I’ve learned that some of the teachers that confused me the most initially ended up being my most respected colleagues. The change has to happen in me first.

  • Denise

    As a veteran who is not “afraid” of technology or new techniques, I would tell new teachers to make teaching choices for their own classrooms and not worry about what is going on in other classrooms.

    One of the greatest things about this profession is that we are free to make creative choices that work for each of us. Students enjoy, understand and adapt to all the different styles and actually benefit from different ways of being taught.

    I’ve watched lots of new teachers come in with “better ideas” for instruction when all they really need is the ability to communicate a love for their subject and a way to connect with kids. These goals can be achieved in many ways and just because a teacher doesn’t use lots of technology doesn’t mean they aren’t being successful.

    My advice is to try what you want in your classroom, but also watch and learn from those with experience. If what you are doing is sound, those vets who are really interested in being better teachers will recognize what you are doing and ask about what you are doing and why.

    Use whatever you can get your hands on to be excellent. Steal, adapt and be willing to share without assuming your way is the only way.

    • Ryan McCallum

      Thank you, Denise. I love this comment.

      Most change starts in a single classroom and comes from a teacher doing something they love for the good of their students. It definitely doesn’t happen because someone tells another teacher that they have to change. Good ideas spread.

      I also like what you said about learning from others. There’s so much value in listening and watching. If the first contact between a veteran and a new teacher is a discussion about what the other one may be doing wrong, nothing good would come from that.

      Again, thank you for a very helpful comment. It’s exactly what a new teacher should see and an experienced teacher should be reminded of.