I was at church this morning and our pastor shared with us the life of a tunicate called the sea squirt. The sea squirt is an ocean creature that survives as an adult by pumping water through its body and filtering out plankton and other little bits of stuff. Before they are in their adult stage, they are a tailed larva that thrashes around to move and find a permanent place to live out the rest of their life. They settle to the bottom of the ocean and attach themselves to the floor and get ready to enjoy life. But before they enter their golden years of squirtdom, their body undergoes some last changes. They absorb the parts of their body that they no longer use–their tail, gills, and then their primitive brain. Yes, now that they have arrived at their goal of the sea floor and no longer need movement coordinated by their brain, their body eats it. The sea squirt just mindlessly sucks water through its body, straining out the stew they need to survive. I’ve arrived baby, so let’s get rid of this brain!
You’ve likely sniffed out my analogy by now, but the sea squirt makes me think about educators (not just teachers here, everyone who is employed to work with kids) and how much they use their brains throughout the life of their careers. I’ve led or been part of hundreds of interviews and with almost every candidate, they are fun to interact with because of their excitement. Those who are recent graduates are eager to share what they know, what they want to learn, and what they want to do while working with our students and alongside the current staff members. Veteran candidates are also animated in sharing their experience and how they will be an asset to students, fellow staff members, and the community. A common topic we discuss during interviews is the candidate’s professional reading and professional development activities. Almost all of the candidates talk about their desire to be life-long learners, keep current on professional reading, and share their want to attend workshops in their particular education area. So connecting my analogy back to the sea squirt, there is a lot of purposeful thrashing about in the interview to help the candidate land in a comfortable spot in our district. This same scenario likely plays out in every district. Almost everyone looks their absolute best on interview day.
What I wish didn’t occur anywhere are those educators who become sea squirts–the productive thrashing is over, brains are eaten, and then they resign to mindlessly suck sea water for the rest of their careers. You probably know a few squirts–the teacher who has given up on learning any new approaches to instruction and just keeps using the same old tired practice that likely wasn’t that great when they first started using it. You also see the administrator who tired of being in the classroom and now patrols the hallways and hunkers in the office, just trying to manage the status quo. No thrashing at all, just mindless sea sucking.
So what do we do? First, don’t become one yourself. At least once a year, read the letters of recommendation written for you that helped land the job you have. How do you compare to the candidate described in those letters? Hopefully you still have the same enthusiasm, but now have more experience and knowledge. If not, remember that passion you had for the profession and then do something to regain it. Read the latest ed journal in your field. Go visit the classroom of someone who is doing good work. Attend a conference and learn something new to try. Even if you do compare favorably to your letters of rec, these previous items still will help you and your students.
What about those educators who have no idea or simply don’t care how they compare to their previous selves? These folks are never easy to turn around, but remember that very very few educators got into the profession with the intention of landing a job and then sliding into mediocrity and below. Form/keep relationships with these people and offer help when it is asked for and when you see it is needed. Mindlessly sucking sea stew on the ocean floor is likely a very lonely existence, and help from someone they trust is just what they need. For those who are beyond saving, well that’s another post for another day.