Those memories are helping me come to terms with the situation in education today.
When I got my teaching degree I had already worked in the business marketplace doing a variety of things. One of those was with an international trade association, where our team planned and executed trade exhibitions that included literally thousands of exhibitors, covering thousands of square feet in enormous buildings. Our exhibitors were household names from all over the globe. Many of them spent up to half a million dollars on their exhibit alone. They each wanted an exhibit that would pull people in and make them curious and excited about their product(s). Those times were opportunities to work with a team, to know what the goal was, to set up and use parameters in reaching those goals, and to infuse all of that with ingenuity and creativity in order to pull off something memorable. It was often a messy business in the process, but the end goal made it worthwhile.
To be a teacher these days means being educated, informed, creative and flexible. It's a very messy business. Every core subject area is brand new: math, reading, writing (and the spelling, grammar, and vocabulary that goes along with those). At the elementary level, that makes for a lot of content to consider all at once. We also have a goal of moving to standards-based grading. Teachers are trying to figure out what is truly essential for our students to master, what materials to use, what pacing should be, what common assessments are to be written. On top of that there are ideas pouring into our inbox, on Twitter, through blog posts, and Pinterest and they're all vying for our attention. Teachers are looking for great apps for their classrooms. Put that all together and it often leaves folks working hours and hours more than before, yet feeling as though they're drowning and inadequate. Where "lifelong learners" was once a new catch phrase, it's now a must-do in the world of teaching.
Do I feel frustrated? Often. Drowning? Usually. Inadequate? Of course. Wheels spinning but going nowhere, asking questions and getting no concrete answers, having meetings that leave me (and my colleagues) with more questions than answers.
I have to keep reminding myself why I got into teaching, what my purpose is, and the perks (yes, although many financials ones have been taken away, there are still perks!) that come with it. Here's what I choose to dwell on:
- I love watching kids take ownership of their learning. To ask the kids to raise their hands if they need more help with multi-stop word problems and see those who need help put their hands in the air with no shame is inspiring. To then have other kids in the class help those kids and verbalize their own thinking is even more inspiring.
- I love hooking kids up with authors and characters they can relate to. One of my boys lit up completely when he found out I had set aside THE RUNAWAY KING for him. He thought it was missing. Another wiggled with excitement as she shared where she is in MARTY MCGUIRE DIGS WORMS and how she loves Marty. Another has become entrance in WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON and another in anything by Linda Urban (currently reading THE CENTER OF EVERYTHING). I could go on and on with this one...
- I love watching kids gain confidence in their math skills after practicing, explaining their thinking, and practicing some more. Yesterday an audible gasp came out of a student when it clicked with her how to round any whole digit number to any place value up to a million. We were working together on an iPad. *Gasp* "Mrs. Gibbs, I GET it now!" That was followed by several green checks indicating her right answers on IXL.com, a continuous grin on her face, and a bounce in her step when she put the iPad away and went to her next center.
- I love planning and going on field trips (cheap ones that take a lot of work but not much money). They give my students an opportunity to meet interesting people and understand government and business, and have them become curious and interested in things they considered boring before. Plus that, the adults involved (the mayor, and the VP of a large local business, for example) are way excited about being involved with my kids and ready to help in any way they can.
- I love going to a homecoming game (or any game/match at the middle- or high school) and seeing both current and former students. Last night three of my former boys (who were characters) reached DOWN to give me the sweetest hugs and told me about their current endeavors in college and the Air Force. My kids from this year hollered my name and gathered around for hugs and smiles.
- I love having meaningful conversations with other educators around the topic of all of the above. Being around others who share a passion for kids, their learning, and their lives is a perk that is beyond any monetary compensation. I so appreciate my colleagues, whether they're in my building, on Twitter, or through some other connection.
I know I make a difference. In these crazy times of transition and change, it's imperative to keep what's important front and center. I will keep moving forward. I will continue to make my mark. I will not let the detours, the uncertainties, or the debates dissuade me. Although sometimes (often) I will question myself or become frustrated with what is out of my control, I will continue to love on and teach and learn from my kids, no matter how messy it gets.