Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Dear Sucky Teacher

Dear Sucky Teacher,

I am sorry for calling you out but you know exactly who you are and you are pretty sucky at your job as an educator and specifically as a teacher of children. Truthfully, I wasn't planning on writing this letter to you but one of our students here at #Cantiague told me that he heard about my letter to some of the sucky administrators in the world and asked why I hadn't written a similar letter to teachers. In thinking about his comment, I decided that a letter to you was important too so here it goes...

You are the teacher who gives the rest of us a bad name. You are the teacher who only took the job because you think the day ends at 3pm and you have summers off. You are the teacher who only communicates with families when something bad has happened and then you dump the problem on the family. You are the teacher who gives a lot of homework every night and then doesn't bother to check it. You are the teacher who sits at your desk most of the day and only gets up to lecture the children or discipline them. You are the teacher who does not tap into your children's passions and interests and you believe that children should not be empowered in schools; instead, they should only be obedient and compliant. You are the teacher who does not plan in advance. You are the teacher who doesn't make learning fun; instead, it becomes an oppressive experience for children without joy. Basically, you are sucky at your job because you are not focusing on what matters most in the world of education - our KIDS!

Fortunately, it is not too late to turn it around and go from sucky to good... good for kids! Here are some things to avoid in your attempt to exit "sucky-ville" (these suggestion come from me and many of the children at Cantiague who shared their opinions about what to avoid because they believe none of their teachers are sucky but they are going on what they have heard)...

1) The work of educating children is not about you... it is about creating a space where the children are empowered to explore their passions, find their voices and feel valued and respected!

2) Do not take yourself so seriously - it is not all about you! Yes, take your work seriously and be passionate about what you do with kids and colleagues but remember to smile and laugh - especially at yourself! Please don't listen to the one professor in education school who told you not to smile until December... smile from day one and share your joy with the children! Smiles, laughter and joy help nurture healthy relationships with your children, which is critical to learning.

3) Don't just give homework because that is what has always been done or because families expect it - make homework relevant and important to children! Maybe even give children voice in their homework or consider limiting the amount of homework because the research on homework having a positive impact on kids (at least at the elementary level) is inconsistent. If you give homework make the time to check it, give the children feedback and maybe use it as a formative assessment. If it is worth the children's time to do it, then give it value!

4) Don't see yourself as the "sage on the stage" who has the "right" answers to every question! Give yourself an opportunity to be a facilitator of learning; give yourself an opportunity to relinquish control of the teaching and learning to the children; give yourself an opportunity to try different instructional practices and techniques; and hey, try and make the learning about asking the "right" questions instead of getting the "right" answers - the process matters as much as the product! 

5) Stress the learning and not just the teaching! Are effective instructional approaches and techniques critical? Yes! But, you also need to be focused on the learning... the learning of your KIDS... the learning of your colleagues... the learning of the family members... and your own learning! You are not necessarily responsible for every one's learning - that is not your burden but also don't feel like you are responsible for all of the teaching alone!

6) You are not a "fixed" entity and you have not reached the pinnacle because you are THE teacher! You still have a lot to learn and do... you have still have a lot to try and many things to fail at within your work... you still have to enhance your craft... you still have to get better and remember that you are a work in progress! And, if you have a chance, become a connected educator - it will change your world!

7) Stop handing out packets during class and sitting at your desk while your children sit in quiet isolation at their desks completing the packets. School, teaching and learning could be about so much more than worksheets, packets and consumables... school could be about thinking outside of the box, nurturing creativity and who knows... maybe even inspiring innovation.      

8) Stop becoming obsessed with the scores on high stakes standardized tests... your kids (and you) are worth a LOT more than a number. Are test scores important? Yes! Is data important? Yes! But children and learning are about a lot more than performance on one assessment or benchmark - don't define your children (or yourself) based on the results of one TEST! 

9) Have fun in school... not all the learning has to be serious, heavy and intense. It can be noisy; it can be messy; it can be student driven; and yes, it can be really FUN!

10) If you are using the same lesson from the same binder from the same bookshelf as you have for the last three years then you are not teaching the children in front of you... you are just covering the curriculum as you see fit. Change it up; disrupt the norm; be innovative with your craft and work hard to meet the needs of every child in your room... even though it is not easy! 

11) And lastly... model what you expect of your students... model what you would want for your own children if they were in your classroom!

So, I am sorry to call you out sucky teacher, but there are way too many of you out there in the world of education! The time has come to change and get better because the current landscape of public education is not a positive one and we need educators who will fight for what is right for our many students who enter our classrooms filled with passion, excitement, curiosity and enthusiasm... be the advocate and protector of children! 

Please understand that I know I have many shortcomings myself and plenty of things I am sucky at too but I try and get better each day because I know that is in the best interest of my children. 


Tony Sinanis 


  1. I am wondering if the post was titled, "Dear Struggling Teacher", would it tell a different story. I am also wondering how much of this is created by teachers mimicking a system they grew up in, or a system that is so focused on standardized testing that teachers struggle between doing what is right and doing their jobs?

    No one wakes up in the morning wanting to be "sucky" at anything. Administrators, teachers, or students. We should always have that in the back of our mind.

    1. George, I think the title is partly to get eyeballs (right Tony?). I do believe that much of the bad habits that teachers have comes from teaching how they are most comfortable which tends to be what they experienced as students. After 20 years in the classroom I still have those days where I catch myself doing that same thing, it is always a struggle.

      I do believe that there are teachers that do as little as possible to get the job 'done' and I suspect that if they were called out they would admit they know better. I would also pose that there are few who are consistently sucky given Tony's criteria.

      I do spend a lot of time with my pre-service teachers getting them to identify how they were taught and what they might want to change to be better than what they had modeled. Classroom culture is really what we are talking about here and culture is a very difficult thing to change

    2. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the big things that some teachers struggle with or are not too informed about.

      I have to agree with George here. Additionally, I don't know the tone or nonverbals that go along with this.

  2. Tony wrote:

    But children and learning are about a lot more than performance on one assessment or benchmark - don't define your children (or yourself) based on the results of one TEST!


    I think my only pushback, Tony, is that we ARE defined by test scores. Heck, here in NC, test scores play a major role in evaluation, compensation and continued employment decisions. If our current legislature gets its way, it will become the ONE factor that MUST be considered before we are extended a continuing contract.

    So you are right: There is SO much more that defines good teaching and good teachers -- but as a teacher in a tested subject in a high stakes state, I can tell you that pushing our fear of/focus on the role that tests play in governing our work is a LOT easier said than done.

    Does this make sense?

    1. Yes it does make sense. This the environment we have in NC.