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IN PRACTICE


spurred action. The response, however, often was simply to work harder - to somehow find even more time and energy to give to our work. If you believe, as we do, that the majority of teachers were already working very hard long before the current economic crisis, then you will agree that we will not be able to do more with less simply by squeezing additional blood, sweat, and tears out of educators.


For too long, the de facto solution to all that ails American education has been for teachers to do more work. Unfortunately, this pseudo-solution is swallowed by many of those same teachers. We have both worked in schools where there is almost a competition regarding the number of extra hours and duties taken on by teachers; heroic martyrdom is apparently the goal. One colleague, battling to help her journalism class to meet a school newspaper deadline, felt too busy to pick up her blood pressure medication. Another colleague, contemplating a stack of essays that needed grading and competing evening plans with her spouse, joked, “It would be a lot easier if I were a nun and could just be left here to grade myself into my grave.” If our schools are to rely upon such a model of heroism for its salvation, our future is bleak. Being great should not require teachers to sacrifice their health and relationships.


Students need teachers who are enthusiastic and positive, not drained of energy and demoralized. We cannot afford to embrace short-term measures aimed at doing more with less that will ultimately burn great teachers out of the profession. Teachers must find ways to tackle the challenges of the present that they can maintain over time. We must, as Duncan notes, rethink how we approach our work.


Sustainable Teaching: Approaching Our Work from a New Perspective “Sustainability,” generally defined as the capacity to endure and thrive, has gained buzz-word status in recent years; media sources have utilized the term in reference to environmental resources, economic policies, and food sources; recent articles in The New York Times even addressed sustainable marriage (Parker-Pope, 2010) and technology (Pogue, 2010). Certainly the concept has captured the public’s attention across many dimensions. Now, with the “do more with less” drum being beaten even more steadily in education circles, we think it appropriate to consider how applying the concept of sustainability to the complex and challenging work of teaching can result in improved outcomes for educators and for students. Based on our past experiences as public middle school and high school teachers, and our current work as teacher educators, we see relevance in the idea of sustainable teaching.


Promoting a sustainable approach to teaching is easier said than done. It would be convenient and tidy if we could offer the reader a universal set of sustainable teaching practices. Teachers, their students, and their schools, however, are idiosyncratic. What strikes


Spring 2011 Vol. 8 No. 1 Virginia Educational Leadership 39


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