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Teaching excellence is high craft

New Mexico Education Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski

To witness outstanding teaching is to witness high craft at its best.

Like all great crafts, it’s part science, part art form. And like most of the world’s noblest professions, there is a huge difference between those who have mastered their craft and those working toward it, with every gradation in between.

There are many facets: The science of checking for student understanding mid-lesson. The art of building student motivation. The science of designing a lesson plan that differentiates for all learners. The art form of knowing your students’ community.

To observe it firsthand is a thing of beauty.

When I observe teaching, I mostly watch the students. A teacher’s mindset, and skill in lesson planning, lead to teacher actions that are designed to drive student actions that are ultimately designed to drive student mastery. Knowing if you’re watching a teaching masterpiece, with 100 percent student mastery of rigorous content, is best illustrated by watching the kids. It’s both simple and complex – and the best teaching professionals stand a notch above the rest – masters of their craft.

That should be celebrated. From the rooftops.

This is why last month we launched the New Mexico-True Excellence in Teaching Tour – to observe, honor, and learn from some of the state’s best. On the heels of the New Mexico True Straight-A Express, which brought us to more than 50 districts to celebrate 122 A-schools, we re-committed to continuously being in the field: always learning, always providing support, always heralding excellence.

I had the privilege of visiting high-performing teachers before this: Ms. Thomas’ fifth-grade classroom at Mesa Elementary in Shiprock; Ms. Milbrey’s English classroom in Texico; Ms. Mitchell’s whole-brain teaching in Clovis; Ms. Burrola’s fiercely urgent elementary math at the Duke City’s own Mission Achievement and Success.

Since the launch of the NM-True Excellence in Teaching Tour, I have visited some of our state’s most outstanding teachers to observe an entire lesson: Ms. Gockel’s Principles of Democracy in Farmington; Mr. Hutchinson’s AP Literature at Centennial in Las Cruces; Mr. Starr’s AP Physics experimental lesson in Bloomfield; Ms. Romero’s first-grade lesson in Pojoaque; Mrs. Player’s fifth-grade guided reading lesson in Tularosa; Mr. Busby’s eighth-grade math tutorial in Roswell.

We’ll observe dozens of excellent teachers statewide on the tour – they teach every subject, in every type of community, to all types of students.

We will capture their craft and celebrate our profession. We should not feel some strange form of societal shame in doing so. For in every profession where will and skill, science and art, proven outcomes and critical intangibles go hand-in-hand, there are virtuosos.

Our profession is a student-centered endeavor – one that requires creativity, ingenuity, reflection. We now have the benefit of knowing to what extent our students master academic standards. Part of the beauty is that our craft can take many forms; there need not be a one-size-fits-all, because we can measure outcomes.

Let’s seize that new reality.

New Mexico now recognizes excellence in teaching in many ways: from this tour to a dream team of master practitioners to a statewide Teacher-Leader Network. From professional development like Teachers Pursuing Excellence to long overdue Excellence in Teaching Awards of $5,000 and $10,000 for our best teachers who help students gain more than two years’ worth of learning in a single year. Creating these networks has formed statewide communities of practitioners that we need.

And while it is our shared aspiration and mission to ensure outstanding teaching in every classroom every day, it is shortsighted to not identify greatness and figure out how to share it and scale it until that day comes.

So let us now praise excellence in teaching. Let us come together and elevate our profession by the simple and obvious acknowledgement that there are incredible teachers in our state that we must learn from – and that they set the standard that we strive to achieve on behalf of our students.

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