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Shaun Johnson Headshot

Get Back in the Classroom! Now!

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We are about to enter the enviable summer vacation, a frequently scrutinized perk of the teaching profession. Yet, the lure of June-July-August persistently fails to recruit those who harp the most about it.

After my first year as a faculty member, I realized that I was a whole five years out of the elementary classroom. Sure, I observed hundreds of classrooms and mentored dozens of student teachers in that time. I was absolved, however, from the real spotlight in front of the classroom.

At that point I sort of felt like a poseur: how can I claim authority on the current realities of teaching as I become farther removed from actual practice? I wrote about this almost one year ago for Inside Higher Education, roughly two weeks after I finished a month-long stint teaching in a DC public charter school.

It was a fantastic way to reconnect with my roots in education as a classroom teacher. And it reminded me of why I got into this business in the first place, despite the daily challenges that are still present for any educator, regardless of experience.

I am about to embark on another summer stint in the same school, beginning at the end of June. The importance of getting back into a classroom must be reiterated especially if one is training new teachers. What motivated me to return was a sense of staleness in my abilities, a perceived lack of stamina, and needing new stories to share with undergraduates. It certainly was reinvigorating, albeit exhausting.

At first, I thought I moved beyond practice after attending graduate school. My focus shifted to more conceptual matters. Although the challenge was always there to make the conceptual practical, it was clearly someone else's problem. I think a number of faculty members in education would agree with me. But for those that are preparing new teachers: there is an even greater need to get back into the classroom. Districts should also be more open to making these opportunities available to teacher educators.

What really infuriates me though is that many of the decision-makers in education never taught. Some make these claims that they've been in many classrooms -- in the back and taking notes. We see photo-ops with officials speaking to children; everyone's so happy and smiling. Or, at worst, they have their own children and make those educational decisions, so of course they know how to deal with everyone else's children.

I want to invite anyone out there who thinks they know a thing or two about education to join me in a school or classroom. Follow me around as I make observations of student teachers and tell me who you think is good or bad, effective or ineffective. Let's see if you can put your money where your mouth is in ways other than insipid policy documents or cowardly posts in the amorphous blogosphere. Lunch is on me.