I've been asked this type of question many times in my career as an educator. Are classroom management strategies more important than asking good questions? Shouldn't teachers be good at planning before they can do ANYthing else? If a teacher can't reflect well on their own teaching, isn't it all for naught? These and so many other questions are ones that teachers, principals, superintendents, and professors ask me on a fairly frequent basis.
I talk about the following question a good bit:
Is student engagement really the pinnacle of all that we do?
Hmmm.....I wonder, if not for engagement of students (or adult participation in a workshop, for that matter), what is truly the purpose of education? In one of our courses for our doctorate, my dear cohort members and I were asked to engage in many conversations and write much about our philosophy of education. For what are we preparing our students through this thing called "school"? I would form my opinion, then listen as others espoused their own beliefs, and I would quite honestly find myself nodding at every single one, even those who differed from my original thought. Is it to teach students to think critically? Is it to prepare them for "the real world" (what is that, exactly?)? Is it to pop out productive citizens? Is it to perpetuate the notion our forefathers set down so many years ago? Is it to teach students social skills in order that they might be able to get along with others in life?
I believe what is most important depends on who you are, where you are, your beliefs, and those of the community around you. I've been engaging my students in one of my Educational Leadership courses (those students who are currently teaching but getting their degree to become school leaders) in the debate about school choice. Some of them vehemently fight for the right of the parents to choose whatever school they believe is best for their own child. Some of them argue that students should stay in their neighborhood schools, no matter what. I asked them what happens to neighborhoods in which schools have closed down because of that cycle; you know, the one that starts with the school not performing well on some state assessment, then the parents pulling the students from that school, then the school losing funding, so resources are now limited, then more parents start pulling their students from the school, then finally the school has to close down. Is the most important thing school choice or school support --- or both?
All I know for certain is this: the educators and educational leaders I know and have worked with are some of the hardest working people I have ever met. How do you put a dollar amount on all the soccer games teachers go to watch just to show support for and build relationships with their students? How do you put a dollar amount on the principals who stay after school for two hours just to begin meeting with a working parent who wants to talk but can't get off work during the school day? How do you put a dollar amount on school leaders in Michigan who are coming to learn about how best to help their teachers when one of their school buildings just burned to the ground this past weekend? Oh yes, this last one is happening tomorrow and Friday, and to me, it just shows the dedication people have to the teaching practice and profession, in general. I couldn't be more proud to be an educator than I am to come to Michigan and work with people who will persevere despite tough times.
A few years after I had become a principal at an elementary school in Niceville, Florida (yes, really, and it is truly one of the most beautiful places in the country), we came back to school, as usual, on the first day or so of August. We had teacher prep days and professional development days ready to go. So much planning had been done to prepare for this day on which we welcomed the staff back to school. Unfortunately, our air conditioning went out. I'm not certain how hot Hades is, but the end of July and the first part of August would give it a run for its money. Did the staff complain? Not a bit! Okay, maybe there was a stray "I'm so hot" heard from the hallways, but we made it work. We went next door to a school district building to conduct our professional development. We basked in the air conditioning for a few hours that day. The next day was a teacher workday, and our dear music teacher (who had terminal cancer AND her own preparation to do, by the way) went around to all the classrooms and spritzed people with a water bottle. Thus, she was dubbed the "Water Fairy". Some would say it looked like crazy-making as we all sweat while moving furniture and prepping the school for Open House. But it looked a lot more like what teachers and school staff do to make it work in order to do what's right for students.
What is the most important part of teaching? I likely still don't know the "correct" answer to my own question, but I know I am supremely blessed to get to see important parts of teaching around the globe as I go into schools, districts, and universities to work with educators on improving their craft.
I'd love to hear your own thoughts on this oh-so-important topic.