In the first parts of Downton Abbey’s Thomas Barrow’s job search, we saw Thomas’s frustration coupled with his lack of preparation. Fortunately, in the series finale, we discover that Thomas’s job search was “successful,” to the extent that he found a new job, but that ultimately he was able to finally land back “home” at the Abbey in a position he will truly enjoy. The journey provides some additional messages for job seekers, extracted from Thomas’s experiences in the early 20th century, but relevant for all job seekers in today’s environment. Related: An Interviewing Lesson From ‘Downton Abbey’ The second interview we see with Thomas is very different from the first and Thomas’s assertiveness is to be praised. Obviously seeing a visual difference between the condition of the estate and the advertisement for the job, Thomas assertively asks “Perhaps you could tell me more about the job?” When Sir Michael Reresby ignores the question as he tours the dilapidated Dryden Park estate with Thomas, Thomas persists, again asking for “more about the job? How many staff do you have?” It is obvious that Thomas decides to move quickly to get away from this situation, finally taking himself out of consideration with “Maybe I’m not quite up to it?” Job seekers today, like Thomas, need to assertively inquire about the real expectations of the job. And they need to be willing to walk away from a job that does not meet their expectations – even if the need for job is great – which is exactly the situation Thomas sees. In the same episode Mr. Barrow responds to Carson’s comment on his sullen attitude: “I can’t see the future, Mr. Carson. But then I suppose, none of us can.” This is an interesting comment because it is so important for job seekers to be looking at the future, in determining the vision for their future and in the need to monitor the trends of the job market and job search techniques. In the series finale, the story returns to Mr. Barrow’s job search with the early scene of his announcement that he’s found a new job, working at the estate of Sir Mark Styles, with Mrs. Jenkins and a maid, Elsie, as the only other staff. Unfortunately, we are not treated to any details of how Thomas interviewed. He is offered the job via a letter. But we do learn very quickly that it’s a pretty safe assumption to conclude that he took this job under the pressure he was feeling to get a job, any job. And that makes it equally easy to conclude that no matter how the interview went, Thomas endured it under that pressure. One online review site summarized Thomas’s new job perfectly. “Barrow landed a job at another Yorkshire estate, working for a dull old couple who would have caused the statuary to keel over from boredom.” It is obvious from every scene with Barrow at his new job that he’s bored and hating every minute of it. Perhaps Thomas is reflecting the frustration of the 70% of employees today who reportedly are “disengaged.” When prompted by one of his former co-workers from Downton Abbey to get along with everyone, he responds “there isn’t much of an everyone to get along with.” But the final scenes of Downton Abbey bring Thomas Barrow back to Downton Abbey in the esteemed position of Butler, replacing the seemingly irreplaceable but ill Mr. Carson. And in this final moment, there two outstanding messages for job seekers. Barrow’s job searches and short experience with his new job with the Styles have demonstrated to him how good his job at Downton was. A colleague e-mailed me with a perfect description: Barrow now has an “attitude of gratitude” that shifted his whole being making him a much more “likeable” character. When he is at the wedding and volunteers to serve champagne during the crisis he did it out of true commitment and concern which is not the Mr. Barrow we had come to know and love (conniving and manipulating). The truth is HE CHANGED which changed his whole perspective and hireablity AND made him the right candidate for the Downton job which he would have never had been considered for previously. In today’s competitive world, several top companies have realized the value of recruiting from former employees. I’m familiar with a top U.S. company which actively recruits from “alumna” and has found that when these former employees return, they have noticeably stronger attitudes, higher retention, and lower absenteeism than employees who’ve never left. I had a student several years ago who actively contacted employees who left on a regular basis, offering strong incentives to return, with excellent results. The final point from Downton Abbey is a solid point for all job seekers. Barrow has clearly earned this job based on his job performance – his selection for the position is easy. Even though he’s left – for a very short time – it’s really an internal promotion. His performance, over ten plus years of service, is known. His flaws are known, his growth as a person is known. Plus, when Mr. Carson is asked if this is OK with him, his response is clear: “Of course, sir, I trained him.” It is the challenge for every job seeker today to make their performance known, in the interview, on the resume, and on the LinkedIn profile. It’s performance, clear accomplishments, that distinguish top performers, not skills and experiences.
My grandparents owned a two-story walkup in Brooklyn, New York. When I was a child, my cousins and I would take turns asking each other questions, Trivial Pursuit style. If we got the question correct, we moved up one step on the staircase. If we got the question wrong, we moved down one step. The winner was the person who reached the top landing first. While we each enjoyed serving as the “master of ceremonies on 69th Street,” peppering each other with rapid-fire questions, I enjoyed the role of maestro the most of all my cousins. I suppose I was destined to be an educator.
I think some of us, like me, go into teaching because a part of us likes being that helper who is also the center of attention, the sage. This is how we get our fix. However, what I did not realize when I first became a teacher, but understand now, is that it is not about how much knowledge I have as a teacher but how well I can help others not only process and retain information but also develop their own intellectual curiosity.
If the goal of schooling is for every student to learn, these would be the 10 facts about teaching that I would want every teacher to know as they embark on their professional journey:
1. Every Classroom Should Belong To The Students Within It
Less teacher and more student. In my consulting practice, I like to joke with teachers that they should come to school tired from planning and students should leave school tired from thinking/doing. Within lesson plans, the teacher should consider how they will engage students individually and collectively in peer-to-peer discussion. Plan out rigorous guiding questions to anchor these student discussions. As teachers, ask yourself when planning if you must be the one presenting content or if students can learn the same content independently and vis-à-vis their classmates. Instead of presenting the content, spend time curating resources that students will need to analyze the content. Ensure that resources will resonate with students be that by interest and/or cultural background.
2. Be Ready To Pivot Instruction At A Moment's Notice
Meet students where they are in their learning. Use quick checks on understanding during instruction to decide if you should pause to clarify content/vocabulary and eliminate any student misconceptions. Instead, so many of us charge ahead with our lesson plans, despite evidence that students are not retaining information, fearful that we will not “get through” the curriculum, particularly at the middle and high school levels. However, if we speed through content and students remain befuddled what good then was this exercise? Paper and pencil tests, as well as other formal summative assessments, are important indicators of learning but only after the fact. Use checks on understanding during learning when there is still time to affect student learning outcomes. Even when teaching older students and adults, never assume that students “should” know something.
3. Anticipate Student Confusion
Plan for it in advance! When designing lessons, consider everything and/or anything that could go wrong when delivering it. Will students not understand what they are supposed to do? Make sure then to craft a how-to document or anchor chart. Will students bicker when working in pairs or groups? Ensure that you provide students with accountable talking stems. Will some students during group work do all the physical and cognitive heavy lifting and others not? Then, assign each group member an individual role or task. Don’t wait for a student to approach you with their questions and/or concerns. Even adults do not like to “look stupid.” Use checks for understanding and more formal assessments to determine student needs upfront.
4. The Curriculum/Textbook Is Not The Lesson Plan
Your students change every year. So should how you teach. Therefore, you need to create a lesson plan for each lesson every year. This point is related to the second one. While the core content being taught may remain the same from year to year, hence justifying the use of a specific curriculum or textbook over a period of several years, how ready students are in accessing that content will vary from year to year and by student to student. You may need to provide academic scaffolds and supports in any given year (much like the physical scaffolds that support a building while it is being built) to ensure that students not yet ready to meet a learning objective can, ultimately, reach that objective without that learning intention being dumbed down. Conversely, you may have several students within a given year who require additional enrichment.
5. Don't Blame Students For Non-Compliance
If Muhammed won't come to the mountain, then the mountain should go to Muhammed. Making learning relevant to students is important. Draw upon student background knowledge and interests when introducing new concepts. Allow students some choice in how they are to learn a particular concept and/or idea as well as how they demonstrate their knowledge of content and/or skills. Use your scholarship data to determine if certain students are not complying because they might be either bored or frustrated with the content. If a student tells you that they are struggling in learning material a certain way, be open to changing instructional practices to better align with the student’s learning profile.
6. The Primary Role Of A Teacher Is To Be A Mentor To A Human Being
Often, when we start our careers in education, particularly those interested in teaching high school students, we have a narrow concept of what our role is going to be—teacher of social studies, science, math, etc. Granted, too much focus on assessments in math and ELA, particularly, reinforces this concept unnecessarily. Still, philosophically, educators of all content areas and grade levels are in the unprecedented position of having real impact in supporting all aspects of a student’s development. Do you help students develop life skills in critical thinking, self-analysis, collaboration, and communication, for example, while also teaching content? How might students hone their social-emotional skills through the learning activities that you design? While some of our students might pursue careers within the content area we teach, the majority will not. But that does not mean that we don’t have profound impact for good, or bad; this depends on how we make students feel about their learning. I wish I could have a “do-over” with a few students whom I feel I failed.
7. Teaching Is A Team Sport
I would be rich if I had earned even a quarter for each time, as a consultant, I encountered a locked classroom door in an upper school and saw windows looking into classrooms covered over with pieces of paper. Instead, be curious about learning best practices from colleagues. Remember the goal is to help all students learn. This means we need to be consistently considering “how” we teach—the processes through which we ask students to learn and the materials and models for learning that we use. Consider peer walkthroughs, engage in data-informed professional learning communities, involve yourself in a collaborative book study, and participate in looking at student work protocols with your co-teachers. Replicate best practices in your classroom. If the administration has not set up the systems and/or processes to allow for these activities, at a minimum, find an accountability partner/master teacher in whose class you may sit and observe and with whom you can share teaching ideas. If we ask students to be curious and to engage in learning, we, too, need to be models for this practice.
8. Let Students Struggle (A Little)
Yes, you can kill through too much kindness. You can't go vote, attend college with, or join in on job interviews with your students. Don’t create learned helplessness. Students need to think critically for themselves. Don't tell students what to think but pose cognitively deep-guiding questions and set up conditions/discussion protocols to help students develop skills around how to think/metacognition. Ensure that learning tasks are intellectually rigorous, respectful, and make thinking visible. Even elementary students can work independently and collaboratively. Assess what students know and still do not know as they work, and then reengage to address any misconceptions.
9. Stress In Class Is Okay (Sometimes)
As a teacher and trainer of teachers, I often will cold call on people to respond to a question prompt. I also have learners select the next person to answer. I recognize that this raises stress levels. But that is not in itself bad when it comes to teaching and learning. And training adults is not so different from teaching children in this regard. Requiring learner “presence” gives one a truer sense of what is and is not resonating and it provides learner accountability. Growth comes from engagement with ideas, people, and resources in addition to self-reflection and extension of our boundaries.
10. We Are All Literacy Teachers
Reading, writing, and speaking are crucial skills to have if we are to communicate effectively. If students do not understand key vocabulary, text details that support a claim, or even the author’s point of view/inferences, how can they ever realistically learn the specific academic content you are teaching? Know your students’ readiness levels as it pertains to literacy and make accommodations to content, process, and/or student product accordingly.
If you are struggling in increasing student achievement, chances are that you can further hone your current teaching practices in one or more of the above areas. To learn how to do this, please feel free to reach out to me at John Schembari, Ed.D. | LinkedIn!