Gwinnett County Public Schools Associate Superintendent Jonathan Patterson said the job of a teacher is harder than it’s ever has been.
Expectations have grown over time. In 2002, a statement from language arts Academic Knowledge and Skills read elementary students should be able to “make and defend inferences and conclusions.” That passage in the 2019 AKS now reads that students should be able to “quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says and when drawing inferences from the text.”
In 2002, math teachers took charge of teaching elementary students to “multiply fractions that can be modeled.” That curriculum has since steepened to solving “real-world problems involving multiplication of fractions and mixed numbers by using visual fraction models or equations to represent the problem.”
“I used to teach biology, and when I look at the standards 20 years ago versus what they are now, they’re different,” Patterson said. “It’s different knowing mitosis versus building a model. … The lessons I had are not aligned to the standards.”
The expectations are different, but the goals remain the same: provide enough support to teachers for them to guide students to their college and career goals. In some places, though, the support hasn’t changed much either.
People with in the Curriculum and Instructional Support Department give credit to superintendent, J. Alvin Wilbanks for recently expanding it. After listening to teacher’s demands for more access, Wilbanks approved an increase the number of core curriculum directors roughly six months ago. There were previously four core directors supporting teachers kindergarten through 12th grade in language arts, science, math and social studies. The number of core directors has since doubled to eight and breaks down into elementary, K-5, and upper level, 6-12, directors.
There are 12 “offices” in the GCPS Curriculum and Instructional Support Department, including the four core subject areas. There are directors for foreign languages, health and physical education, English language learners and a myriad of other support systems.
The school system’s elementary core directors took a tour of 80 schools to identify the needs of local teachers. For the department to do its job, feedback is key.
“I would say we’re being very intentional and really listening to teachers and school leaders,” GCPS Executive Director of Curriculum Bonnie Brush said. “We just wrapped up a meeting where we talked about the user experience.”
What elementary school directors came away with were four immediate needs, which directors Anna-Mary Smith, Logan Malm, Jeremy Nix and Janet Lewis outlined in an update presented to the Board of Education in July: content support, targeted professional learning, time-saving resources and increased visibility.
For content support help, directors have used Zoom Video Conferencing to introduce engaging methods of instruction. Some teachers view these on their own time, while some departments view them together after school hours. The Elementary Communication Center, an online portal with the videos, instruction calendars, lesson plan templates and other useful tools, have been the answer to local teachers’ requests.
“Its a one-stop shop for their resources,” Lewis, the K-5 math director said. “Elementary school teachers do everything. It helps their time management and planning.”
From the director’s perspective, moving from teaching a classroom of students to speaking to a camera in an office is a new experience. It’s not like teachers are going back to college though. The instruction videos are, for example, for teachers who may have heard of algebra tiles but haven’t been advised how to integrate them into a lesson.
“I would say it’s different,” Deborah Martin, 6-12 math director said. “So we actually practice with the teachers. We walk through as if we were teaching it, then we kind of shift and let the teachers practice in their classrooms.”
The work between directors at different levels is extremely collaborative. Elementary directors keep in constant mind the ultimate goal of all their students, even if graduation is a decade away.
Patterson said a cross over understanding of expectations is crucial to the teachers’ responsibility to support students, particularly at the fifth and eighth grade levels. A fifth grade teacher should be familiar with the curriculum and expectations at sixth grade and an eighth grade teacher should have an understanding of the ninth grade curriculum and so on.
“The collaboration is what brings the power and impact behind multiple directors,” Kimberly Lipe, 6-12 director for language arts and literacy, said. “it would not add value if we were not highly collaborative.”