Joel Zarrow has experience in both the public school system and in the private sector. Zarrow is the executive director for the Children’s Literacy Initiative. This non-profit organization’s mission is to work with teachers on improving instruction to help children excel in reading and writing skills. Zarrow earned his master’s from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education and his doctorate from Stanford University.

(Photo Courtesy of Joel Zarrow)

(Photo Courtesy of Joel Zarrow)

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Are continuing education courses beneficial for teachers?

“Continuous learning for teachers is essential; continuing education courses are not. The problem is that continuing education courses are typically disconnected from a teacher’s’ day-to-day work, where great concepts don’t have to deal with the messiness of real classrooms with real kids. Our experience at CLI mirrors what is found in research: the most impactful learning is embedded in the real experience of teaching children. Having a literacy coach come into your classroom and help you to improve a specific instructional practice is the kind of applied learning that sticks. What I hear from teachers is that having a coach who understands where you are as a teacher, knows where you want to grow and works with you until you see the results in your students is a profoundly impactful professional development experience.”

What advice would you give to someone entering the world of education?

“You are not alone. This holds true for experienced teachers, but it is especially important for new teachers. It may be obvious, but as a teacher, you will be spending vast portions of your day with kids. It will be glorious, scary, gratifying, funny, immensely interesting and well, hard.  You need to know there are adults out there that can help. Whether it’s answering basic questions, talking through something that went down in the classroom or just venting, finding your go-to crew will make your days better and your career longer.”

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What changes have you observed in the past year where the role as a teacher and hiring practices are concerned?

“There are several factors impacting hiring practices for teachers. First, with student demographics shifting to include more English Language learners, the need for bilingual teachers has never been higher. It will only grow from there. Second, the need for STEM teachers continues to be acute. Demonstrating specific content expertise in these areas is incredibly important. Finally, the expansion of charter school systems is increasing competition for the most promising teachers.”

What can be some of the most challenging aspects of teaching in the classroom environment?

“Creating a learning environment that engages and challenges a broad range of students with different learning styles, interests and needs is no small feat! Establishing a productive and positive classroom environment sets the learning foundation for the year. We want to help children see their classroom as a place where shared responsibilities are the norm; where positive and kind language is heard and where clear procedures help make the day go smoothly. These practices of classroom culture can be learned, but it is also a mindset.”

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