Imagine you are a child in a classroom. Now imagine that there is a teacher in front of you, talking. This teacher does not care what you already know or have learned about this particular subject, in literature, math or the sciences.

Maybe you already have a wealth of knowledge about a particular period in history and are ready to take your learning to another level. You want to learn more, learn deeper. When you try to tell your teacher about what you already know, that teacher says they don’t really care about your experience and that you’ll need to learn the same way everyone else does, because that is what is required.

Now imagine you are a teacher. This is what New Mexico teachers go through during our professional development each year. As learners, we like choices. Let’s face it, some subjects are more interesting to us than others.

My sixth-graders really come alive when they can learn about something that has meaning to them. During our last social studies project, they worked on creating a business in ancient Egypt. Ancient Egypt doesn’t hold a lot of meaning for my students, but they were able to pick a part of the culture that they could relate to, like food; They created a restaurant. As a result, they had a lot of fun and we all learned together.

As teachers, we would love to have the same choices when it is time for us to learn. Unfortunately in New Mexico, we aren’t able to do that as professionals.

This year, we are facing a school year like no other. In the short time I have been back to work, there has been much uncertainty on how to approach this time of remote or hybrid learning.

My district began to send out numerous emails during the summer break with online training and opportunities, but they were all self-paced and there were so many that we felt overwhelmed. There was no central lead on how this would be approached and what we needed in terms of professional development to face these challenges that the coronavirus has thrown our way.

Many say that no matter how many years you have been teaching, this is like your first year all over again and, if that is so, we need a strong base of professional development to lead us.

Teachers like me seldom get to choose the content and modality of training that we take throughout the course of the year. This goes against everything that we are taught to do for our students.

I know that giving students choices throughout their learning is extremely important. Through choice boards, I let my students decide how they will present their knowledge to me. I allow them to select their literature and the subject they want to write about when they do research.

In a 2018 Teach Plus survey, nine out of 10 teachers in New Mexico indicated that they did not have autonomy in selecting their own professional development. In fact, many of us give a half-day every week to training that we don’t need but that is mandated by our district. This does not have to be the future of teacher training; there is a solution to this.

The Teach Plus Fellows recommend a three-tiered system of professional development. Each tier would be geared toward a different level of teaching so that new teachers are always attending the same sessions as someone who has been teaching for 20 years. Tier 1 would be aimed at new or struggling teachers; Tier 2 at mid-level professionals; and Tier 3 would be a deep dive into subjects or leadership opportunities.

Districts would be held accountable for offering teachers learning opportunities based on what they need or want and not just what the district feels they need to have. Best of all, teachers in New Mexico would be able to access the professional development offerings through a virtual Marketplace, choosing the training that works best for them and their students. They will have access to choices.

Just like our students, we have different interests and strengths and we are eager to learn. The state PED should develop a position at the state level that is dedicated to creating a quality system professional development to support teachers across the state. Districts could have already taken these steps, but we need the state to support this vision. Let us choose our learning opportunities.

(Ruth Gallegos teaches sixth-grade Language Arts at Kirtland (N.M.) Elementary. She is a Teach Plus New Mexico Teaching Policy Fellowship alumna).