The Friends I’ve Never Met: Advice from Dr. Beth Ray

Dr. Beth Ray, Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, The University of Texas at Arlington

When I was a new teacher, I was pretty much alone.  All the school bus sweaters in the world were not helping me fit in with my team…and it was difficult to really observe them teaching.  I listened at doorways, leaning over while my kiddos got drinks so that I could hear how another teacher hooked her kids into her lesson.  I watched teachers line up their classes (some with success, others without) and I shameless copied their behaviors that seemed to work.  I attended planning meetings and wrote lots of notes which were totally unreadable later.  I chose teachers to look up to – requirements: had cool bulletin boards, good hair, and sharp classroom management- and then I stole their ideas as fast as I could.

But I was learning too slowly.  My kids knew I was unsure and they got away with too much…and sometimes too little.  I mostly got my lessons taught.  I tried hard.  I got better at both problem solving and being able to tell when kids weren’t following…and then I met Rafe Esquith.

Okay, I say met.  Actually, I found his book – or his book found me.  My principal kept a basket of books by her desk.  Once, during a parent meeting where I was being raked over the coals for “not caring” because I “didn’t give enough homework” and my weekly newsletters were “too cutesy” I saw Rafe’s book just sitting there.  After the meeting, I asked for the book.  “Of course!” She said, “But you have to tell the staff about it when you are finished.”

Life. Changing.

The book was called, There are No Shortcuts, and all of a sudden, I had a friend.  That book remained on my desk for the remainder of the year.  It made sense. All of a sudden I knew why I felt the way I did about management – I wanted it to be intrinsic!  My “cutesy” newsletters were chosen and edited by the kids – Rafe would have approved!  I believed in whole class novels and my team thought they were a waste of time but guess what?  Rafe’s students read Huck Finn!

He was the first of my friends that I’ve never met.

Debbie Miller and Ron Clark are also close pals of mine.  They whisper to me in those moments of being stuck or facing a situation that begins with, “but these kids can’t do that…”  Dr. Fenwick English backs me up when people talk about standardized testing but then argue results shouldn’t follow the bell curve.  Don’t get me started.

And Marzano.  The man can synthesize a billion data points and give you a classroom strategy to improve learning.  His rubber actually meets the road.

Can I just say to you, new teacher, it’s time to go hunting for your new friends.  Those researchers and teachers and staff developers who are standing alongside you.  They can speak louder than the negative ones if you will let them into your heart.  Trust me, you have friends that you have never met. Go find them.

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