What If? #4: What if teachers had it all?

I never thought I’d be writing this entry.

I never expected to be in a classroom with a 1:1 computer to student ratio, tables and desks, paraprofessional help, a coteacher for one period, lightning-quick technical support, a SMART Response system, a document camera, a complete online course system (Canvas), software and leveled readers to help individualize reading instruction, a body of data about my students with daily professional support in accessing and analyzing that data to help students, an academic coach who pops in and leaves me feedback, a principal who has been in my room each day, after-school tutoring interventions twice a week, a low student-to-teacher ratio, school supplies for students who need them, a copy room attendant who offers quick turn-around with a smile, a large collection of high-interest and high-quality literature selected to relate thematically to what we study throughout the year (stacked neatly in a cabinet in my classroom), audiobooks for most of my reading selections, a stack of grammar and vocabulary related games and flashcards, a well-stocked classroom library, an amazing array of online databases in the school library, and, the icing on the cake, a drawerful of prizes and treats left behind by one of last year’s teachers.

I also never would have predicted I would be teaching English Language Learners and some of the lowest readers in the school, sophomores who will be attempting to pass the state graduation test in a few months for the first time.

In my experience, teachers can easily get caught in a holding pattern:  Idea, obstacle, idea, obstactle, idea, obstacle.  To be fair I’d argue that we usually accomplish innovations, collaborations and progress in between obstacles, but it can still  feel like three steps forward, two steps back.

Often, when administrators begin to talk about accountability, such as the legal requirement that districts begin using student achievement as a significant portion of teacher evaluations in Arizona, teachers (myself included) begin the process of creating mental lists of the barriers in our teaching lives, barriers to helping students learn. But but, class sizes are ridiculous! But but, my students are all over the map! But, I only see my students three times a week! But, there aren’t enough books!  But, but, the computers are so glitchy the labs aren’t worth using!

These “buts” are absolutely valid, though not an excuse to give away the power we have.

What would you do if all the barriers to your best teaching disappeared?  If you were provided with all the tools and systemic support you could want? What if, as we already know is true, you had to come face to face with the reality that the most important factor in the success of your students is, in fact, you?

Frightening, eh?  Empowering, yes?  I’m finding it exciting, though I can’t say I’ve yet developed a complete vision about how I can best bring our team and all of these resources to bear on the needs of my students. The first day of school was yesterday, and I am knee-deep in figuring out the needs of my students. From the resistant sophomore girl who casually let me know that she didn’t remember her name on the first day of school to a sweet, fauxhawked Mexican boy who just moved to the U.S. two months ago, to a kind, social young woman from Burkina Faso who made incredible progress last year and practically lived in the reading room, I have the tools I need to teach them to the best of my ability.

I am curious to know what that will look like. No pressure, right?

My questions for you are:

1. What resources do you need to do your best teaching?

2. How would your teacher-talk change if you had the resources you needed?

3. What would you do to help your students learn if you truly had it all?


Amethyst Hinton Sainz

I currently teach English Language Development at Rhodes Junior High in Mesa Public Schools. I love seeing the incredible growth in my students and being an advocate for them. I am a National Board Certified Teacher in Adolescent and Young Adult English Language Arts. Before this position I taught high school English in Arizona for 20 years.

My alma maters are Blue Ridge High School and the University of Arizona. My bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing and Philosophy led me toward the College of Education, and I soon realized that the creative challenges of teaching would fuel me throughout my career. My love of language, literature and culture led me to the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College for my masters in English Literature. I am a fellow with the Southern Arizona Writing Project, and that professional development along with, later, the National Board process, has been the most influential and transformative learning for me. I enjoy teaching students across the spectrum of academic ability, and keeping up with new possibilities for technology in education, as well as exploring more topics in STEM.

In recent years, much of my professional development has focused on teacher leadership, but I feel like I am still searching for exactly what that means for me.

I live in Mesa, Arizona with my family. I enjoy them, as well as my vegetable garden, our backyard chickens, our dachshund Roxy, reading, writing, cooking (but not doing dishes), hiking and camping, and travel, among other things.

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