Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Dear Teacher, Let's Take a Cue from Elsa

I'm guessing I've taught about 900 lessons this year. An average of 5 per day for around 180 days. Some days there were more (butterfly unit, what what) and some days there were less (sweet Jesus, Magic School Bus, please let me rest my voice and mind for 20 minutes). But overall, that's a heck of a lot of teaching. Times that by 7 years teaching and well, I'm not a math girl, but that's like, a bunch. In the midst of all these lessons, unfolding over sunny mornings and rainy afternoons, in my early twenties and my late twenties, in 3 different cities,  I  was the one who learned the most valuable lesson of all. You know what lesson I've finally learned? Well, I could have just watched Frozen and saved myself some tough learning experiences, but, yes, sweet teacher, you with the stacks of grading and the pain in your heart from the sad family situation of your little guy who sits in the back, with the endless emails and dried out Sharpie pens: Know this: Let it go. It's true. You do you, give it 110% and then....let it go. 

Educational reformers, school districts, and school leaders, even the government, feed modern teachers this lie that "Input of A, will (and should!) lead to output of B." No matter what, always, forever and ever amen. The simple fact is, this type of pressure reduces the joy and magic of teaching to a dry and black and white science. Sidenote: I teach the little ones so high stakes testing isn't even on my radar and that? Whew, that is a whole other load of pressure. My hats are off to you teachers who deal with all of that. 

What is expected of teachers? Put your objective up? Check. Differentiated lessons? Check. Provided immediate and relevant feedback? Check. Engaged all students with cheerful memory techniques, hands on fun, and plenty, plenty, plenty of opportunities to practice (the elusive and beloved "we do" that teacher folk swoon over)? Check. This list could go on and on (and indeed, it does) of what makes the perfect climate for learning. But anyone who has lived more than a day on this Earth knows, deep down, life is never ever that simple and formulaic. Neither is the classroom. You can plan and prep with the best of them, armed for battle with a beautiful lesson (and all the necessary items needed at just an arms length, you old pro, you), but when there's an accident of any bodily fluid variety, a kid melt down, a ringing phone, a thousand email "pings," a "have anything for me to do?" parent volunteer with no notice, a spilled pencil box (why, for the love, can these things just not stay. put.?), tardy students walking in, a "he hit me" from the back of the room......this is real life and oh girl, you've got to just let. it. go. 
I've had a tough year. I often joked with my teammates that if I had one more year like this year, I am hanging up my teacher hat for good and never ever returning. I have really beat myself up when all that input of "A," often never lead to the output of "B." It took me a long time to learn (and lots of "opportunities to practice," take that education research), that ideal input does not always equate to ideal output, whether academically or when it comes to behavior. My students this year (well, most of them, I did teach some awesome ones) were tough. I went back to the drawing board time and time again and tried a million different things with them. For the first time in my career, work wasn't fun and while teaching is never ever easy, it was an intense struggle, a daily persistent battle. Sometime around March, I came to the realization that there will always be people who litter, who don't say good morning back, who tip poorly, who run red lights, and who use cell phones in movies. Life is chock full of people who don't really care and newsflash: some of these might even be the kids and families within your classroom. I cannot change the axis on which the world turns. I can only control the climate of my classroom and even then, the output may be not be an accurate reflection of the input. And I.....well, I have to let it go.

 I always saw myself as a "career teacher," walking out of school one day (hopefully with an impeccable sense of style for a 60-something, and no crows feet), with 40 or so classes under my belt. This year flipped that dream on its head and sat me down, and forced me to think that maybe, just maybe, that isn't my future. Don't get me wrong, I still love teaching but its focus and direction as of late has me worried. Not just about the mental health and stress levels of the educator profession, but goodness, for those kids too. One of the key tenants of quality teaching is the belief that every child can learn. You better believe I know that's true. There is a magic in the classroom that is ever present when passionate teaching and learning combine. Magic is not a formula. Learning is not scripted. Sometimes as a teacher you might feel like that "formula" is the be all and end all. But honestly, let it go. It's who you are that your students remember, not just what you say and how nicely your objectives lined up with the core. Kids just want what we all want: to be loved and listened to. I know hoop jumping is part of this teaching world (Praxis, anyone?) so do it, jump through those hoops, but never let the hoops and red tape take priority. 

  Finally, if you are a teacher, I want you to know this: It's such a tough pill to swallow when you realize with despair that you cannot change the world. The adage is true: You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. It's sad and it's frustrating and it's made me cry on more than one occasion this year (maybe it's pregnancy hormones too, in full disclosure), but when you get up every morning, and try and try and try (and try some more!), and you lift one another up in this journey (I shudder to think where I'd be without my teacher people, we are our own tribe and must always stick together. I have never met one single teacher on my 7 year journey who did not have the best interest of children at heart. You are my people and I am thankful everyday for the adults in the trenches with me) and you go back in, each and every morning, with mascara on (well, on good days), and write the day's agenda on the board full of hope again: I admire that. In myself and in other teachers. You cannot save the world, you've let that go, remember? But you still have at it every day and that takes real courage and gumption. There's not many on this planet who could do what we do and I firmly believe that. It's a fervent prayer of my heart that I will learn to reignite my passion and learn to love teaching again. I want to so badly. Maybe you're in that same position, too.  So, teacher, enjoy your summer, travel and read and relax. Really truly enjoy every moment because you, teacher, of all people, deserve to truly let it go. 

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