Over the past 10 years as a classroom teacher, I have taught over 200 students, written over 600 newsletters and articles, and have received over 2,400 comments from over 250,000 visits to our 2 classroom blogs. I have shared the ups and downs of teaching and learning and have learned a lot about my students, their families, the business of education and (especially) myself in the process. As I stand poised to change my path, I cannot help but reflect on my journey thus far.
When I started teaching, I had many preconceived ideas about how I would deliver instruction; how I would make learning come alive for my students. Entering the teaching profession late in the game led me to believe I would be bringing Wisdom with me. Little did I know that Wisdom is elusive and was much farther down the road than I was at the time. Here are some things I’ve learned about teaching along the way:
1. Effort Affects Everything – How hard we work as students and teachers affects the outcome of everything we do. Without effort, there is very little we can know, understand or be able to do. I repeat this phrase in class on Day 1, Day 180 and every day in between. For many of my students, it takes time to truly know what it feels like to work hard.
2. Whatever you pour your energy into, gets bigger and stronger – This is true no matter if it is something positive or negative. If you are putting your energy into chatting with friends instead of completing a project, chances are the project will not get bigger and stronger. Looking at my life as a grown-up reflects how true this saying is, and I am committed to sharing that lesson with my students so they see choices continue to affect us even well into adulthood.
3. Teaching = Vigilance – This one REALLY proved itself over and over during the past 10 years. What is each student doing? Saying? Needing? Understanding? Whether the students are walking in line, gathering belongings in the cubby area, reading silently or working in small groups, they require a level of vigilance that reaches just beyond what is humanly possible. Teachers have to employ all of their senses to maintain awareness of what is going on in and out the classroom at all times. If you are doing it right – you will know because you are EXHAUSTED!!
4. Transparency is the Harbinger of Trust – I am extremely proud of the relationships I have built with families over the past 10 years. My anxiety causes me to worry about confrontation and to avoid difficult subjects. I had to push myself beyond my own abilities to proactively communicate with families. In fact, this blog has become one way in which to do that. I have shared what is going on in our classroom and have provided an additional method for families to connect with me. Like thousands of teachers, I have made myself available in any manner possible to keep lines of communication open, honest and proactive. Ultimately, it has made a positive difference for my students.
5. Whoever is Working the Hardest is Learning the Most – When I first started teaching, I wore a bare spot in the rug at the front of the class. I spent hours planning my lesson delivery, and often wondered why only some students “got it”. For a long time, I believed it was my lack of presentation skills, and I just needed to find better ways to teach at the front of the room. I was working HARD! Thank goodness, I soon realized the best teaching and learning occurs when I am next to my students, rather than standing in front of them. I learned to make them do the hard work, so they could reap the benefits of learning. Technology has played a big part in changing the dynamic in my classroom, but ultimately it was my own ego I had to set aside when I realized the Suzy Show just isn’t an effective teaching strategy. My students are now working harder than I am, and learning more along the way.
6. #LookUp – I have been trying to teach my students mindfulness for a long time. They have grown up in an era where they order their burger at Window 1 and pick it up at Window 2. They are always waiting for What’s Next instead of living in the What’s Now. They want it to be Lunch time. They want it to be Saturday. They want to be 13. I remind them to look up and be more aware of what is going on around them. To be thankful they are struggling through a problem, to be excited they are working with friends, to be content with being 8, or 9, or 10. As adults, we know all too well how fast the time goes. Teaching our children to slow down and appreciate smaller moments is a gift worth giving.
7. Teaching is Sharing – In my presentations, I have often been quoted as saying “Teaching is an isolating profession”. As teachers, we often toil away with “Our Kids” in “Our Room”, only coming out for occasional connections with others. These past 6 years as a presenter have allowed me to connect with folks from all walks of life, from all over the world. I have learned to say “Teaching WAS an isolating profession” in an attempt to encourage teachers to share what they do with others. Amazing things are happening in classrooms all over this country, and most people don’t know that. We are the cagebusters who have the power to change our profession in positive ways. We must unlock our doors and let the world in.
8. Anxiety Does NOT Define Me (anymore) – I have been a victim of anxiety for almost my whole life. I have allowed it to rule my day-to-day existence, and to limit who I am and what I can do. “I have anxiety” was a negative belief to me, never to be seen as a strength; as a positive. During the past 6 years as a teacher and presenter, I have learned anxiety is just a part of who I am, part of what defines me. It is up to me to decide whether that definition is a positive one or not. Whether I am gearing up for a difficult conversation, a big presentation or even an interview on live television with Chelsea Clinton, it is MY choice to decide how anxiety will affect those experiences. It would be VERY easy for me to succumb to the power anxiety wishes to have over me – to doubt myself and my abilities. However, I’ve learned (and taught my students) life gives EVERYONE challenges. We all have struggles to overcome, and the more we excuse ourselves because of it, the more damage we do in the long run. We must choose to see our challenges as opportunities.
9. Our path in life is not predetermined – We carve it out with each decision we face and each choice we make. Though there will be some choices we regret, we can only hope our next ones will move us forward in positive ways. My students are faced with endless choices already. They are learning the importance of those decisions each day they spend making them. With supportive adults guiding them towards independence, our children will learn the power of pathfinding.
10. Growth comes from within – I have been “teaching” my students to take responsibility for their own learning for the past ten years. I have learned that skill (although on the report card) is one of the hardest to grade, and almost impossible to teach. The skill of knowing what you know and what you need to learn next sounds almost too challenging for children to understand. However, in a world of 7 billion people, we must be aware of what we need as individuals. Ultimately, no one will ever take full responsibility for our own learning. As parents, we try to do it for our kids for a while, but our job is to teach our students to do it for themselves. Being deeply reflective leads to the truth, and knowing the truth can lead us to grow.
So, after a lot of reflection and facing many truths, I am ready to start a new chapter in education outside of being a not-so-traditional classroom teacher. My skills and efforts will have a new effect on students and families, and I will learn even more about myself. Stay tuned as I prepare to take another decade by storm.