Today, Ali and JoDee sit down with Dr. Sharon Blumenthal-Cohen, an educator with over 25 years of experience teaching writing and literature to students from grade school through graduate school. She is also an educational consultant who supports schools with training, evaluation, mentoring and professional development. Together, they will talk about growing and reinventing yourself as an educator, ways in which education has changed over the last 25 years, and improving the narrative of educators.
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All teachers are natural innovators, entertainers and problem solvers. They dream of growing old into the profession, teaching their kids kids. But sometimes career goals shift or change, and that makes opportunities outside of the classroom seem intangible questioning who am I, If I'm not a teacher? I'm your host, Alexandra Simon.
And I'm your co host, JoDee Scissors.
This is The Great Teacher Resignation.
Today, our guest is Dr. Sharon Blumenthal-Cohen. And she has worked in education for over 25 years teaching writing and literature to students from grade school through graduate school, and preparing educators for the field. In addition to teaching, Dr. Blumenthal-Cohen also works as an educational consultant supporting schools with training, evaluation, mentoring and professional development. Thanks for joining us today, Sharon.
Thank you for having me.
So we are really interested in talking to you today, as you've had such a unique and long journey in education. And you're really our first guest, that has been a classroom teacher. You've gone through a lot of different variations of education for our listeners know that about you. And we want to know, how do you continue to grow and reinvent yourself as an educator?
You know, I think that my professional career has really been very organically grown. A lot of my reinvention has come out of connecting with people in the moment, and then sort of allowing myself to see possibilities and potential from that moment moving forward. And I'll just give a few examples of this. When I was in high school, I started teaching at a religious school after school. And that's just something that someone had suggested to me as a way to make a little extra money and loved it. And saw that it could be something that I might do into the future. And so that was just sort of like a little spark in my teen years to kind of get me catapulted into the world of education. I was teaching after I went to undergrad because the program I went through at the time, a million years ago, it feels, was training teachers out of undergraduate education. Started teaching in a school where I was asked to be a mentor teacher to somebody else. And mentoring a new teacher got me thinking about the potential to move into supervision and evaluation. Sort of all of these little moments in my career, where I got a tiny taste of something beyond what was in the moment, and organically sort of sought out where to go next. And make an opportunity from that experience that would sort of catapult me to the next experience. And so I've kind of enjoyed all of those organic moments, they've naturally occurred. But one thing I want to also note is that I did not leave behind my early experiences. I just continued to incorporate them into my present practice. So at present, I still teach young people, middle and high school students, literature and writing, I still mentor teachers in the field, and I still teach at the graduate level and train teachers for the field of education. I didn't necessarily say goodbye to anything, I just sort of added it to a buffet or a repertoire of practices in the field.
Thank you so much. And for those of you who have not met Sharon, like I have, she was a high school English teacher to start with. And then slowly developed this repertoire, which I think is a great way to explain it, of skills and growing within the education field. And I think what you're showing our listeners is that your job as an educator doesn't always have to be the same thing. You don't have to just be a middle school science teacher or a high school Spanish teacher or an elementary ESL educator. That you can grow within the field and that there's a lot of opportunities to do different things. It sounds like you were really able to listen to what you wanted. And I have to say that something that I struggle with, because I've thought about doing a lot of different things when I was a teacher. So I guess, could you maybe tell us a little bit more about how you were able to kind of morph or to grow and change a little bit in these roles?
So my first teaching job on contract right out of undergrad was at a high school, public high school, and I did as you said, teach English, literature and writing. And I was there for real a long time. I taught in that building for 11 years and really enjoyed my time there. But as I say, I was asked to start mentoring other teachers in the department. And it was something that hadn't really occurred to me as something that I could add on to my teaching. I think many times when we're in the classroom, and someone comes and asks us to do something more, we just think of it as part of the job we signed up for. It just wasn't listed on the contract. It didn't occur to me initially, that I could actually make that into the next move, professional move for myself. And again, you know, I don't have I guess, the magic answer for it. But a lot of it was organic, where we had a department that was kind of in need, we saw a huge turnover, we're still seeing that. Now. I mean, if you look across the country, we have so many teachers who are leaving the field. And there was an opportunity to sort of throw my hat in the ring for department chair. And so I did. And then that next job is department chair sort of opened up the door for me thinking about the fact that here, I was working with adults to help to develop their teaching practices, and that maybe that would be the next move that I would then make, you know, I always really enjoyed the teaching element and wasn't really too married to whom I was teaching. So over the course of my career, though, I started off teaching young kids, like I say, in a religious school context, and then taught high schoolers and then thought, oh, community college, that sounds exciting. And then I taught undergrads and then I taught graduate students, I realized that it wasn't really about the... I believe that the heart of teaching is really relationships and personal relationships and connecting with students. They didn't have to be a certain age for that to happen. And so I think that also allowed not only a bunch of doors to open for me, but also it allowed my teaching to feel fresh and new. I was always working with different aged students at different points in their educational experiences. And for me, that made me excited. I've met so many different kinds of people, folks who've returned to education after careers and other fields, etc. And so that organic nature of sort of seeing opportunities, pursuing them, and then asking the question of why do I love this so much? And what can I next do that incorporates this new skill or technique or experience that I'm enjoying?
You are really segwaying into what my next question was, which was, how those principles of teaching are related to the young learner and to the adult learner? And how you utilize those? So other than relationships, what other principles do you kind of transfer over into that wide range of age groups?
I'll answer with what I ask every single first day group of students I work with. I always start with the same kind of icebreaker, I guess we'd call it. And that is what do you know more about than anyone else in this room? And the reason I asked that question is exactly for the answer to your question, which is, everybody has something to offer, even the very young, the very old, we all have something to offer that's unique. That we know more about. That we've had more experience with. That we feel kind of an expert in. And I think starting from that point of acknowledging that I'm not the sage on the stage. I never have believed in that philosophy of education. But rather, I know some things about the topic that I'm teaching in my classroom, and you bring a lot of your wonderful knowledge and experiences to our community of scholarship. And I try to treat all of the students at whatever age with that respect. That they know something more than me, and certainly something more than many of us. And that connects us as a community. You know, communities are made up of a variety of individuals and resources, and they only work really well when all of them are appreciated and shared. And so that becomes sort of that context that is, I think, has made a lot of my teaching successful. So I guess paired with relationships, those are my foundation. You know, I think a 10 year old wants to be just as recognized as somebody who's you know, in 60s, or 70s.
I don't know if you have this lens or Ali, but I feel that everybody is a learner. Sometimes they're a little resistant to learn something new, but that's how I perceive just the human and the human brain is as a learner.
Indeed, I would agree with that for sure. And even those who are a little resistant, you can find that point of connection. We are. We are curious beings, humans, and we want to know more and we want to understand. And I would I would sort of say that that's another strategy that I've made use of my entire career, which is asking fewer questions, but inspiring my students to ask more questions. So once they feel that they are on a pursuit of knowledge, then we have a productive educational experience together.
I love and I can hear your enthusiasm when you talk about being an educator, talking about working with your students. And I know so many of the teachers out there, they have that passion too. But because of the different pressures that have been put on educators, they're feeling like they're burnt out. They can't give the same amount that they want to give. They probably still have that fire like you do. They want to keep educating in some way, shape, or form. And so what advice would you give to someone who's really not ready to leave education, but they're not able to stay in the same place? What kind of guidance would you give them?
You know, I think he makes such a good point, I think that the old model had been you found a position in a school system or individual school setting, and you stayed there until your retirement. And I would say that diversifying our experiences has really been beneficial for me, and can be a really great way to rethink our careers in education. Again, allowing ourselves to really see what we love about what we're doing, and how we can use our skills and our passion in other areas of the field. Unfortunately, the burnout is high. And unfortunately, what I think we see is teachers don't feel like they have anywhere else to go with their background and their experiences. But I think that the field is much broader than we've been led to believe. So really thinking about all the different possibilities that are out there beyond just the roles in a school that we're very familiar with. Asking a lot of questions. It wasn't until I started working through universities to supervise new teaching interns in the field, that I really had a sense of an outside and different perspective on the school community and all of the positions that play an important role in the larger school context. Universities provide that. You have lots of mentoring positions. You have reaching out to parents and asking them what they are looking for. We have lots of educators who are really great advocates for parents that they work on the other side. They're not in the classroom, but they're helping to navigate challenging situations for students in classrooms. I think it's just really being very open minded and not considering that the teacher only looks like one thing.
Definitely. And I think we're trying to hear from a variety of educators and experts who've gone into other things. And you're shedding some great perspective on to what mentorship and leadership outside of the schoolhouse can look like for future educators. I'm interested in knowing how would you say education has changed in the last 25 years?
You know, I think education is changing all the time. And you know, we used to have a joke, I don't know if it's still one that teachers make, but that every five years, you have a brand new charge, right? There's brand new programming, a new set of curricular materials that you're supposed to become familiar with and employ in your, in your teaching practices. I think at its heart, it hasn't changed much. We still have, as you all were suggestingm we've got curious students who want to seek out more information and understand the world better. We've got inspired passionate teachers who want to work with young people and even adult students in ways to kind of broaden their understanding of whatever subject area discipline they're experts in. That's at the heart of it all. But I think what we haven't seen change that I would like to see change, though this isn't exactly your question, is the way that we understand the you know, the profession of teaching. I think the larger society doesn't view teachers, as the kinds of professionals that we really are. Doesn't see the kind of time and effort and education that we do on our own to improve upon our practice. The conversations that we have, the collegial conversations that we have to try to understand how somebody has been successful with something that we haven't been successful with and how we grow and develop all the time. The changes are great. And I think the teachers are making tons of them themselves, working on their practice all the time. And what I'd like to see, of course, is a real professionalization of the field. You know, we're we're really kind of seen as the professionals that we are. The changes that have come across I think are kind of surface changes. You know, the changes in the way that maybe the school looks, the way that the curriculum materials look. You know, the buzzwords change. But at its heart, we know what we're doing. And we want to be trusted to do those things really well. And I worked for a teacher education program that had to really end its programming because it was cost prohibitive. And the reason that it was cost prohibitive is because the teachers well trained as they were coming out of that program couldn't possibly pay off the debt that they had accrued from going through the program. And that is a result of not valuing teachers for the kind of work that they do and not seeing them as the professionals they are.
Do you think you have an opportunity, in what you do to help change that narrative in terms of the relationships you build with your students across grade levels or ages, but also the parents that continue to hire you for your services? What do you do yourself to help improve the narrative of educators?
It's a great question. I do think that those individual relationships help. I think that you know, as parents and other stakeholders see the kind of work that we do and see how valuable it is that they do increase their understanding of what it really means to be a teacher. But some of the work that I do in my own consultancy is creating rubrics to evaluate teaching and giving feedback to schools about the valuable people who are working in their buildings. And I think that that has a significant impact. When I go to administrators and explain to them and I give real evidence that I've seen in classrooms of the kind of work that their teachers are doing. I think many times their minds are blown. They hadn't previously realized the kind of work that goes into. I think they have a bird's eye view of a lot of what goes on in schools. So I do think that a lot of the work that I ended up doing with administrators, and highlighting what goes on in their buildings and kind of highlighting the talent that they have can be helpful. I don't think, one on one, we hear a lot of conversation from parents or outside stakeholders that teachers aren't doing their jobs. I think that it is the big voices of groups, outside groups. That when we talk one on one with parents, parents say things like, oh, teachers are so important, and they make the difference. And my kid has really been affected in such positive ways by all these wonderful professionals that he or she has had in classe. But I think that we have a larger voice we have to attack. And I think it's a good question. I'm not sure what else to do. But I'm on board. So as you all come up with great ideas for your podcast, I want in.
Well, and I actually have heard from some of our listeners who really didn't know as much about education and started listening to the podcast, maybe through a friend, but they're learning more what educators really do. I think there's a misconception about that we're not necessarily professionals in the same way that other professionals are. And hearing our stories and hopefully sharing out stories like this, episodes like this, so that the greater communities can really understand what it is that a teacher does. And that their impact isn't just in one day, that actually years later, young people look back and that teacher may have inspired them to be something, to do something. But I really appreciate what you shared today. You shed a light onto something that we hadn't really talked about yet. And that was the perspective from evaluating educators and acknowledging the hard work that they're doing from that lens. And I think a lot of times as teachers, we get nervous, we get scared when we think someone's coming into our classroom to evaluate us. It's it's a very nerve wracking experience, and honestly, the way that you explained it, and how that actually helps the administrators to understand what it is that we do. How valuable we are. I've worked with amazing administrators, but a lot of them have been out of the classroom for a number of years. And so it is important for them to come and see that the work that we do. For individuals, like you, to go into our classrooms, and help evaluate or to help create the rubrics that are going to evaluate the work that we're doing. And so I really appreciate the perspective that you brought today and sharing your experience on the show. To get in touch with Dr. Blumenthal-Cohen or to enlist her services, please visit www.drsharonbc.com And that's www.dr Sharon bc.com Thank you.
If you liked The Great Teacher Resignation, give us a five star rating and follow us on Instagram, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, and Audible. This episode was written and recorded by me Alexandra Simon, and my co-host JoDee Scissors. Produced by JoDee Scissors. Original Music, Emoji by Tubebackr. Special thanks to our sponsor, Paper Planes Ed.