Currently a department co-chair and co-director with the Pennsylvania Writing & Literature Project, Brian Kelley has taught 6th, 7th, and 8th grade for over twenty years.

Be Unruly. Read Professionally.

Be Unruly. Read Professionally.

A friend and retired colleague said, "We don't read enough professional literature."

We means teachers. The statement surprised me. In that circle, we do read professional literature and frequently discuss it. Perhaps naively, or perhaps because I have a short memory, I thought everyone read professional literature and discussed or shared it with someone. Don't we do that anecdotally in the halls between classes, together at lunch, socially outside of school? Don't we pick up on fragments of education scholarship on social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook?

Some do. But do we. Is professional reading part of the lifeblood of American education or is it a curious past time for some?

To my friend's point, I don't know if we do or we don't; all I know is my experience. Truthfully, the professional reading in my life has only come through my initiative (purchasing titles and subscribing to journals) or my engagement with the Pennsylvania Writing & Literature Project.

Neither active affiliation with a professional organization nor consistent, professional reading is part of the natural workflow of American education. It isn't the expected norm; and I know its value would be questioned. As a matter of fact, the most common act where a teacher might find exposure to the research is through post-graduate credits and graduate degree programs. Yet, that specific work (as professionally valuable and professionally lucrative as it is) is isolated and individual. It is not part of the natural workflow of a teacher's work week--the engagement of professional literature with colleagues. After all is said and done, teachers attain post-graduate credit to improve salary...it might be argued that improving oneself as a teacher is secondary.

This is the system we work in. Accumulate credits to climb the ladder...alone. It is the rare exception that the teacher who earns that post-graduate degree or certification shares that knowledge with colleagues. Sure, it may impact the teaching in their classroom, but again, that is an isolated and individualized outcome.

What does American education value? We get what we emphasize.

In other words, we don't read and discuss the research together. We don't purchase new titles from Stenhouse, Heinemann, Corwin, et al. and pass them around, borrowing ideas, collaborating over change, sharing epiphanies...growing together.

No. For the most part, my experience with the teacher's work week is probably a lot like most in public education: show up on time, take attendance, teach a few periods, plan, squeeze in some grading, collaborate if you are lucky, engage with students who need extra help, process paperwork and emails from guidance counselors/the main office/doctors/the school nurse/administrators/parents/students, teach some more or cover an assigned duty, accomplish team goals for field trips/upcoming meetings and events/maybe coach or lead an after school activity, squeeze in some grading, and then go home (do some more grading and more planning/flush school and focus on you and your family).

In the list above, I did not wedge in "time for professional scholarship." Teachers have to carve that out on their own.

Sadly, many colleagues report (on Twitter, in blogs, at conferences) that they will have laptops open and phones out--multitasking--during meetings. I know I do! And it just gets worse every year...I am not sure if that means our work flow has drastically changed or if the expectations and timing of expectations has experienced a seismic shift? Maybe both, I am not sure. Nevertheless, I fully realize that I need to be present in every meeting. Ideally, the laptop and phone would be off. Yet, much of the work I am doing is work-related. Our responsibilities overlap and collide like the earth's plates. No one wants to wait. Everyone needs an answer yesterday. And teachers are often left to figure it out. I don't mind the work, but I am becoming increasingly aware of what our actions demonstrate as our values. And I kind of want to take some of that message back..and hope you would too.

And so, back to my friend's observation about professional reading.

Taking a cursory look at the numbers, an estimated 3.1 million full-time teachers work in the United States. Yet when I look at recent circulation statistics of the peer-reviewed journals that I know of in the field of education, I am left even more curious:

  • English Journal (circulation 11,000)
  • Voices from the Middle (circulation 4,000)
  • Language Arts (circulation 4,000)
  • Mathematics Teacher (circulation 22,879)
  • The Science Teacher (circulation 22,800)
  • Science & Children (circulation 17,000)

My first observation...English teachers are reading less professional literature than the other core subjects? Can that be true?

The second thing I wonder--are these numbers acceptable? Are we reading enough? Truly, I am asking.

Is a circulation of 58,000 among six major education journals good enough? Is just a shade under .02 percent of 3.1 million good enough? Or am I skewing or misreading numbers? 

You might be tempted to argue that I did not include all journals--this is true. I only can speak of my experience and that is part of the point. I have not had much exposure to professional literature except through my own initiative and my immersion in NWP. I can't read everything, but I can read something.

Yet, where is the explicit value of professional reading in the daily habits of American education?

Of course, the above does not include online reading or published nonfiction resources through Stenhouse, Heinemann, and Corwin. A more accurate accounting is certainly ripe for the person who holds the numbers. I'm literally just repeating the question because I find it compelling.

I know my experience. I am wondering about the experiences of others with professional texts. Do we teach in an environment where professional scholarship is embedded into the work week? Do we work in an environment where professional reading and conversation is encouraged and facilitated?

Who ensures the future of the professionalism of teaching? The teachers. We do. Me and you. You and I. Us. All of us. Our actions this year will go a long way to reestablishing at least one (forgotten?) value of American education.

Have teachers become compliant facilitators? Is there enough energy left in the tank for you to join some of the unruly readers and creators out here? 

Can you imagine--making time to read professionally in your day (or even once a week) could be seen as wasting time? To do so, to buck the system, would make you so deliciously unruly!

Take back a piece, even just a fragment, of what makes our profession on par with the medical field--read professionally. Make time for it. Subscribe to a journal! Ask for the time. And when you read professionally, find someone, someplace, to share it with. Discuss it. Write about it.

And do it again the next month.

Be unruly. Read professionally.

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