Sometimes we teachers may grow cynical about the ‘career and college’ ready mission statement. It’s not hard to see why: when our nation voted gave corporations the same voting rights as human beings we knew we were in deep trouble. To avoid that rabbit hole, I’ll just say this: we still work, and one of our jobs as teachers is to show students the opportunities and pathways so they can make the work-life decisions for themselves with the best and rigorous information.
And a secret to all this is — not all work is bad. Far from it. Modeling passion and personal engagement in our work lives is part of the mix of building relationships with students: when we point to the purpose of learning, the foundational piece comes from us. Establish our own engagement, purpose and love of our time in the workplace.
We were the nation of innovators and dream makers. We were envied the world over for our ability to create, for ingenuity and puppy-like enthusiasm. I am not sure we are that now, with a few exceptions (looking at you, Elon Musk). And I pin my hopes on the next generation of thinkers, inventors, writers, artists, and designers on helping students communicate and build the skills necessary to work together in order to solve problems.
The work I’m doing in the WABS/STEM Fellowship program and the PLU ELL Endorsement is guiding my thinking: I wanted to share some ideas from STEM group in terms of project/collaboration/employability rubrics:
Recently, after much internal struggle based on external factors, (those are the best kind!) I asked my principal if I could rejoin the 8th-grade cadre–a loose group of teachers, brigands, and pirates, and certainly rascals, asking a few conditions (this is new for me–asking*). This year since I joined the technology academy it’s been challenging to create a connection with the adults, although my relationship and teaching connections have never been better with students. Since it was clear the obstructions to a good team proved insurmountable, it was time to reflect, retreat, and regroup. Some people, quite frankly, don’t dig my stuff. That’s life–no need to feel bruised or sore. We all ask this big questions about professional relationships. And I truly believe everyone deserves to work with people they like and respect.
Me and my silver-lining mania, however: I leave behind the history/social studies content, the half of the humanities gold standard. I loved it and am reluctant to give it up. At the same time, however, I look at others’ pure ELA writings and feel pangs of envy. There’s Pernille Ripp, and Two Writing Teachers, and Three Teachers Talk, Ethical ELA, and…and…and…oh! The Notice and Note page on Facebook, and so many others. So many ELA teachers joyfully geeking out on their subject area: and as I’ve said many times, best job in the world, where I get paid to read and write, and inspire others to share in this awesomeness. But I’ve been to the mountain, and not sure I want to leave. How do I move forward with the best of both worlds, and maintain a humanities’ focus in these days of pointed, targeted testing?
Most Social Studies teachers know this, too: currently, their content area is not ‘on the test,’ (although it surely is), but since it doesn’t say “reading” or “math” at the top, their names aren’t associated with scores, any more than the PE or Band teachers are. We give a lot of lip service to whole-school culture, but I know some who are not math or language arts teachers sleep easier when it comes to the test score results. There is a disconnect between the data and content. The best teachers and teammates, however, know how to work collaboratively to support all learning for all students, and I am blessed with knowing some great teachers–we believe in collaboration, discussion, sharing, curating, and knowledge building. So, in essence, I’m not giving up this content at all, but shifting back to colleagues who understand the value of collaboration, colleagues whom I’ve worked with previously to not only work together but feel responsible and powerful when it comes to students’ success.
I have learned so much this year–when that collaboration was absent in my professional world, I now have more insight and gratitude for getting it back. The adage, “…don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…” My paradise was paved this year, but now I’ll grow back stronger.
So here’s to once and future collaborators: those who know me know my workshop/studio philosophy from my art degree days: put it all up on the wall: discuss, critique, accept or reject, and then go back to our workspaces and continue doing good work.
This was a long way around to say ‘thank you’: to use the word ‘appreciate’ is too small — I cannot wait to get back to the brain trust and geniuses of teaching you all are: telling you I love you is about right because I do. And if this isn’t love, I am not sure what is. You make me better without tearing me down, and I hope I always do the same for you. Thank you for being there for me, too, warts and all.
Ah, what would the world be like if bullies were easily identifiable? What if, when a bully spoke, a brackish green cloud formed with every word, and their bodies glowed eggplant brown, a visible aura to show their words were angry and full of fear? That ugly beacon of fear would shine from me on occasion, and at checkpoints throughout the year, and my students would know I am Angry and Afraid, the twin spawns of dictatorship.
What am I afraid of?
I am afraid that when I am refining and honing my craft, the art/science of teaching, time will be stolen from my students so they won’t see the full benefit or be able to work on a continuum.
I am afraid of being misunderstood, under-appreciated, and patronized.
I am afraid of others taking credit, not collaborating or building.
I am afraid if I speak up. share an idea or insight, even build on another’s in a collaborative spirit, I see the inner (and sometimes overt) eye-rolls from others who dismiss my ideas.
And I am angry that many educational cultures around the country foster this paranoia, insecurity, and fear. And the fears are real. We are afraid of losing funding. We are afraid our schools will be bought out and privatized, and someone will profit (but not students in the long run). We are afraid our children will not have access to the jobs and opportunities in our own nation.
Whew, that’s a mindful. I should say mind-full. Mindfulness is the jargon word of the moment. Not a bad one, but one.
We are given pathways and signals on how to be, how to think, how to move forward. And with any of these wonderful tropes what may be lacking is the how – how to overcome when our best practices grow carbuncular obstacles?
If you ask coordinators, coaches, supervisors, professional development trainers, co-workers, office staff, or my students you will get a very different review of my level of flexibility. (Which, isn’t that paradoxically the very essence of flexibility? Knowing your audience?)
I am still experiencing thought thieves, and worse, time bandits. And not cute Terry Gilliam ones. Recently I asked my Facebook community if there is one thing they could change about teaching, what would it be, and their answers are thoughtful and wise:
I realize this is a very small sampling, but do you see a theme? Time.
This past month, I tried something new. Though I have always taught to the highest standards, provided the highest expectations, and worked to craft scaffolding that was supportive and upward bound, I took a risk and thought I would try to jigsaw The Hobbit. It’s not a bad idea. (If you would like the full unit, email me. It’s yours.) It’s chock-full of Tolkien goodness (sounds like a brand of nougat), and most of the students were getting it: close reading, annotation, etc.
Where the wheels have come off the bus lies in one simple truth: I haven’t been there, and won’t be there. I have more professional development tomorrow, and have a personal issue on Wednesday, so whatever continuity of instruction I sought is dashed against the rocks of others agendas and poor timing once again. In order to get students engaged, I need compliance. And in order to get compliance, I need flexibility from them and from my supervisors. I’m in the middle, feeling pinned in. If I say “no,” as we adults are often advised to do, there may be retribution and passive-aggressive fall out. If I say “yes,” I am working nights and weekends to make it work for everyone else, because my students are the ones who are ultimately short-changed.
And one more thing: I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. With all the ‘how to reach introverts,’ (which I excel at because well, I know that world too) I am concerned about the extroverts. (I would wager most of us are ambiverts anyway.) They are often told to just be quiet. I tell them, too. One thing I’ve learned is constantly remind them of reciprocal needs: last week I held up my hand with three fingers up. I had three teaching points to make before they started working. As I made a point, I put down a finger. This way the extroverts had a visual cue to check and monitor their listening, and I kept my promise of not talking too much. We maintained a balance of power and mutual respect. (Students in a crowded sixth period class are done. I’m done.) Every year is different, every class community varies, and every student comes equipped with their own grooved brain. This tip might work for that class now, but not sure about next time.
So back to the color-coding of emotions, an overt ‘mood ring’ of inner monologues: when we see someone is in the red-line, their amygdala is wigging out, and the lizard brain is in charge, maybe we could be more compassionate, slow down, and learn how to process and calm down. If we only had time.