Listening, Part 2

Recently I wrote about listening and how what and who you listen to influences what you do in life. If you read that post you know that I have been listening to and influenced by the wrong person for quite some time now.  I have been on vacation this past week, therefore I have had much time to reflect on this, as often is the case when I am away from school. In fact, it is always during this “free” time that I gain the most perspective about myself both personally and professionally. When I am away from the source of that negative influence, I feel motivated to develop my craft. I am inspired by, and seek out others who share similar ideologies. Quite honestly, I become the teacher/person that I know I am meant to be.

The person I am meant to be is creative, passionate, and motivated. She is a lover of books, writing, and music. Going on walks and feeling the warmth of the sun inspire her and sometimes moves her to tears. (Did I mention passionate?) The person I am meant to be is not just a good teacher, but a confident, much sought-after teacher. The person I am meant to be is…positive, optimistic and hopeful.

This realization then forced me to reflect back on my life, and to think about another voice that I listened to many years ago. A voice that influenced me and greatly shaped the way that I felt about myself.  A voice that left me broken and full of self-doubt. A voice that led me down a path similar to the one that I am walking today. Sadly it became increasingly clear to me that when I listen to certain people, my own voice is silenced. I become the person that I know I am NOT meant to be.

The person I am NOT meant to be is doubtful, negative, and sad.

My last post ended with the question why. Why have I let someone, some people, have such great influence over me? Is there something in me, (my DNA?) that doesn’t always allow me to filter certain voices in a rational way? Some would say that it stems from feelings of low self-worth or lack of confidence. I would argue that if that were the case, why have there only been a select few who manage to influence me as such? I’m not sure I know the answer, or if the why is even important anymore. I think the far more important lesson here is that I am recognizing and owning this part of myself. With wisdom comes the hope that one can learn from past mistakes. So on this hopeful, sunny day I am thinking positively. As I walked in the warmth of the sunshine this afternoon, listening to music that inspires me, I was moved to tears.  Today, however those tears felt cleansing to my soul. The wind felt like a long lost friend guiding me back “home”. I like what my voice was saying today, I was listening. I am storing it in my pocket to keep with me when I return to school next week. For that’s when I will need to hear it the most. Because when you find the most important voice, and you really listen, only then can you live the life you were meant to live. To be the person you were truly meant to be.

Teaching: Art or Science

I’ve been doing much self-reflection as a teacher these past few months. I think about the profession, how it’s changed, and where it’s headed. This reflection has forced me to come to terms with who I am in the classroom. As someone who has always struggled with self-confidence, I have spent much of my career second guessing myself as an educator, telling myself that I’m not equipped for the profession, that I’m not as good as my colleagues down the hall. Recently, we hired a very ambitious teacher at my grade level. She spent the summer creating hundreds of lessons, she can recite any math standard as it relates to the Common Core and uses formal/informal assessments on a daily basis to gauge where her students are academically. Yes, you read correctly, on a DAILY basis. Hers is a classroom of constant pre-testing, re-teaching, and post-testing. She has it down to a SCIENCE. Well, this would probably cause even the most seasoned teacher some level of discomfort, never mind one who struggles with confidence issues. So when the school year began, we all felt like we needed to step up our game. Which, in this profession is always a good thing. For me, however, it again brought up feelings of inadequacy, that perhaps the time had come for me to leave teaching to those better suited to this “science”.

Miraculously for me, and I would like to think for my students, something shifted for me a few weeks into the school year. I started reading more, I started to blog and most importantly, I started using Twitter more. There I joined several chats to develop my PLN. Little by little I have begun to feel validated, respected and encouraged by the teachers and administrators who I now turn to whenever I need support. Twitter is where I have learned more about myself as an educator, than in any PD I have ever taken. And the things that I have learned about myself are things that I embrace, rather than question.

Here’s what I embrace: 1) I am not someone who wants to teach the same way every year.  I am creative, and when my creativity is squelched, I die a little inside. 2) The students who sit before us today are far different from the students of yesterday.  3) Assessment is important, but it cannot be what drives us in the classroom every day. Instead, we must strive to make learning meaningful, and dare I say it, a little bit fun.  4) Preparing students for high stakes testing day in and day out is not the reason I became an educator.

To say that I no longer have doubts about myself as a teacher would be untrue.  I will forever seek the approval of my peers. However, today that approval seems less and less important to me. It no longer worries me that my colleagues down the hall may have this teaching thing down to a science, because I believe that teaching is an art.

Stuck

Being “stuck” is certainly not how anyone would choose to describe any situation of their life. Stuck in traffic, stuck in a relationship, stuck in a career. Yet for so many teachers, this is exactly what comes to mind when asked how we feel about the profession we once loved. Trapped. Caught. Stuck in a situation because we are highly qualified and overpaid. Stuck in a situation where politicians, and marketing companies continue to dictate what is taught in our classrooms. Stuck in a situation where we are constantly being given conflicting messages. We know that children are not all cut from the same cloth, that we need to reach individual students by differentiating our instruction. Why then are we asked to assess them all the same? It makes no sense, but as teachers we have no voice, irregardless of the fact that we are the ones in the trenches with these students. We are the ones being held accountable on many fronts: NCLB, teacher evaluations, MCAS, CC, etc. We are in a word, stuck. Of the nine veteran teachers I have spoken with at my school, every single one would leave this profession. Every single one.

I’m sure at this very moment there are people reading this (I can only hope) who angrily scoff at this post. People who are retorting that we should leave, that no one is stuck who doesn’t want to be, that perhaps we are selfish and lazy. After all, teachers do have the best hours, they have summers off, and like today, the occasional snow day. Believe me, I’ve heard the arguments. To the naysayers, I have neither the energy, nor the desire to defend my hours both in and out of the classroom. To know most teachers is to know the depth of our devotion to this profession. Which is why being stuck is such a sad place to be as a teacher. We are fully dedicated to the children in our charge. It is solely for our kids that we do in fact stay “stuck”. We have not given up on them, though many have given up on us.  Apparently for all of our dedication and years of service we can be easily and more cheaply replaced. Ironically, should teachers ever get back some of the many principles lost in recent years, (autonomy, decision-making, planning time, authentic assessment, curriculum design) there is no doubt in my mind that every teacher would no longer feel trapped, caught, or stuck.

Jumping In

For years now I’ve been a bit of a hypocrite (okay, a BIG hypocrite). As a teacher, I often ask my students to write. I ask them to brainstorm, to draft, to edit. I watch and guide them as they struggle through the stages of writing. Throughout this process, I profess my love for writing. I tell them that writing comes easier when you write about what you know, what you are passionate about, yet I myself have ignored my own wisdom. I tell my students that my life-long goal is to someday write a book, that writing is a natural extension of who I am. I have kept journals since I was a teenager. I read voraciously. I love words. I am inspired by, and somewhat envious of authors who have labored long enough to get published. It is my dream.

So why then have I not taken any steps to jump in and find my voice? Why do I find numerous excuses why I can’t write? What am I afraid of? What am I avoiding? The answer to these questions is simple. I’ve known it all along. It’s what I tell my students. Writing. Is. Hard. Yes, writing is hard. Putting your voice out there is hard. Writing for an audience is hard. Being judged is hard. My students don’t get a choice. I am their teacher. I assign, I judge. And still they write. They are graded and given feedback. At times that feedback is hard to give. They listen. They continue to write.

I have no teacher. I have no assignment. I have no one to judge me. Yet I do not write. I have been a hypocrite. A well-known children’s author recently told me to begin by just “telling my story”. I guess the best way to begin is to just jump in. Here goes…