HMH Learning Moments: Teachers in America is our new podcast series profiling K-12 teachers—their stories, struggles, and successes. Rachel Swartz, an ELA teacher in the Bronx with seven years of experience, sat down with Rose Else-Mitchell, HMH’s Chief Learning Officer, to share her perspective on what being a teacher in today’s world really entails.
Check out our Facebook Live interview with Rachel below, along with a summary of what she had to say:
The Reality of Being a Teacher and Role Model
There’s a common misconception about teachers that their job is all about grading exams, preparing students to take tests, and having the summer off, Swartz says. However, the role of a teacher is not only to prepare lessons plans but also to help develop students’ social-emotional learning. In our Facebook Live interview, Swartz explains that on top of the academic curriculum, she focuses on the behavioral and emotional components of student engagement. Swartz has experienced firsthand what it’s like to be viewed as a role model as students watch their teachers to see how they react to certain situations, for example.
“The job is so different from any other job because you’re teaching people,” Swartz says. “So it’s not just data, which I think is often drilled into our heads—numbers, numbers, data. But you’re teaching kids to be people, and that’s emotional. … There’s that aspect of the way you speak to the kids, and you have to keep in mind their feelings—who doesn’t get along with who? Who likes praise this way, and who likes to be praised this way? You’re learning about who they are as people and how to adapt your personality to meet their needs.”
Challenges in the Classroom
Rachel notes that one general educational issue she regularly discusses with her colleagues is the presence of learning gaps and teaching students who come from so many different backgrounds. There can be major differences in reading levels among students, ranging from English learners or disabled students to those who read far above grade level. “There’s this one standard that everyone has to get to, but what ways can we get them to get there?” Swartz says.
“That’s where creativity comes in,” she adds, referring to differentiating instruction to meet students’ varying needs.
The Impact of Tech on Students
Technology has great potential to change K-12 education. Why is that the case? Swartz says technology can make learning more hands-on. Students may be able to create films or other types of digital projects and even communicate with people in other cities or countries. Technological tools can also help students with research. Even with different life experiences and learning backgrounds, all students can participate through the power of technology.