The Teacher in Me
Our Education Days’ banquet and job interviews took place this past Monday and Tuesday. This annual event is designed to connect our graduating teacher candidates with potential employers. A banquet on Monday evening leads to meet and greet mini-interviews on Tuesday morning. During the introduction part of the banquet, candidates head to the microphone and share about themselves as future teachers, often commenting on what motivated them to become a teacher and the pictures they have in their heads about the kind of teacher they want to be. For those of us who saw these candidates come to PUC as Freshmen, and have watched them conquer challenges and grow into adulthood, it is special to listen to them, on the verge of being hired and beginning their careers, describe their vision for education.
We enter our teaching careers with promise, exactly like these young teaching candidates, resolved to care about kids and make a difference in their lives, however it isn’t unusual for the pressures of the classroom and the rush of life to sweep our intentions aside. For instance, I received an email last week, written by one of my former students after he read the According to the Quality School blog
I just read your post about quality schools. Ya know, I got into education wanting a classroom much like the one described in that post. I specifically wanted to teach in public schools because I believed a teacher who had Christ in his heart and a desire to truly help children grow and not just claim a paycheck once a month and get summers off was needed more in the public school systems than in one of our Seventh-day Adventist schools. But 9 years later I find myself being just like one of those teachers I swore I would never be. I often feel defeated. I feel like I am in a battle between myself and my principal, between myself and the state department, and between myself and a system that only cares about test scores and could care less about young people. It has been a losing battle. I feel defeated. I have swum against the stream for so long and I am tired and it shows. I used to create lesson plans that were fun, lessons that focused on getting young minds to explore, to ask questions, to learn from mistakes. Now I find myself scouring the Internet for a worksheet just so I can “cover” a skill. The other day I caught myself refusing to “waste time” answering a question from a student because it wasn’t a topic that would be tested on the state test. A few years ago I would have stopped everything and had the kids start reading, searching the Internet, conducting experiments, and drawing conclusions to answer that question. I would have tossed aside the lessons I spent hours preparing to let the kids answer that question. Instead, I actually found myself saying, “Ask me at recess, we don’t have time for that right now.” The child never asked me the question at recess. And I forgot all about it. What happened to me? Ugh!!! Not sure why I am dumping all this on you right now. Just read that post and guess I needed to get that off my chest and maybe receive some sage advice. Sometimes I wish I was still at PUC. The pressures of college were nothing compared to the pressures of full time teaching in a system that only cares about looking good on paper. I hope all is well with you and your family. God bless.
I share this letter because I think it may capture the thinking and feeling of quite a few veteran teachers. The constant crush of classroom responsibilities and details can crowd out our real reasons for wanting to teach. Choice theory beliefs seem to be especially fragile in the midst of this “crush.” We leave a choice theory workshop or training, or maybe finish reading a book about choice theory, and are fully intent on putting these ideas into practice. And we do for a time. But then the crush hits from multiple sides, maybe home is complicated, maybe our spouse is acting weird, maybe church is stressful, and then there is always the crush of school. This is one of the main reasons I wanted to start The Better Plan blog. I want it to be a small part of your day that keeps the choice theory ideas alive and that reminds you that there are others of us that are on this journey, too.
I’m not sure if I responded exactly right, but what follows is part of what I wrote back to my former student – “It sounds like that teacher you feel you used to be is still in you, still wanting to show up in your classroom. I believe the circumstances you mentioned are real, especially the pressure to achieve on standardized tests. There are some things you cannot change. The question is, what are some things you can change? What are some things that would help you to like going to work more? What are some things that you can do that would help students realize they are cared for and that they can succeed? Is your school or district doing much with the Common Core yet? I see the Common Core as an important step away from the NCLB emphasis. The Common Core needs teachers to teach creatively and to empower students to learn.”
I don’t think what I said was that special, yet when he sent me a reply that included the following I was reminded how easy it can be to encourage one another.
As I read your post I am astounded by the fact that I don’t practice what I preach. “You are the only one that you can control” has been a mantra of mine for several years now. Your advice aligns perfectly with that mantra. That is definitely what I will begin doing ASAP, taking a closer look at what I can do instead of focusing on what is out of my control.
His final thought is good advice for all of us. What are areas in our life in which we do have influence and control, and how can we make improvements in those areas? And to my fellow choice theorists, what are some of your “go to” thinking or acting habits when the crush begins to close in on you?
Have a blessed weekend! We are finally getting rain and fog in northern California, which we desperately need, so it should be cozy soup-eating, book reading (or blog reading), by-the-fire weather.
Have Choose a good day!
I’d like to add that your student is not alone. The idealism that a brand new, young teacher has is a wonderful thing. The frustrating thing I experienced was the condescension I felt from other teachers who have given up and become experts at the worksheet shuffle. Unfortunately, I still experience that. As I am attempting to transform my classroom (and hopefully the school) into a Choice Theory school, I am meeting stiff resistance from teachers who don’t want to change, who have fallen into the “this is as good as it gets” trap, and who have given up trying to attain higher goals. Their attitude is that I am naive and need to grow up – basically they want me to give in too. If I give up, then they can keep shuffling worksheets and don’t have to raise their bar to a higher level of teaching. DON’T GIVE UP! This is about the students, this is about transforming lives into responsible choice makers! This is about teaching children how to think and choose, which is exactly what God wants them to do. DON’T GIVE UP! Thank you, God, for this blog that has rekindled my passion and teaches me with each post – DON’T GIVE UP! Your kids are worth EVERYTHING that we do!
Your response is so incredibly important! People need to see what you have shared. I especially need to alert the teacher mentioned in the blog to your message of encouragement. You write from experience, from the front lines, and you write with such honesty. Thank you.
For the record, excellent teachers, those who practice and preach choice theory, are needed in SDA schools just as much as they are needed in public schools. The system in Adventist schools is a little farther along in accepting the concept of personal responsibility than public schools, but not all that much. I have taught for 29 years in SDA schools, and while I can’t say I have loved every minute, I can say I have loved every year – and every student. Don’t give up just because it gets difficult – so few people want to take responsibility for their choices and it is our job as teachers to teach them to do that very thing – while society teaches them to blame someone else. No one ever said it would be easy, and the reward will be in heaven, not on earth. Celebrate the moments that you see growth and progress, and leave the rest to God.
I like the idea that while you may not have loved every minute, you loved every year. That’s taking a long view that is healthy, I think, and that is a good reminder for me. Just out of curiosity, how much does your personality wrestle with discouragement, or is discouragement less of a factor for you, in general?
Good to hear from you, by the way. Laeci is doing well.
These replies have helped me to feel thankful I teach religion. The subject isn’t on a standardized test.
But what I really wanted to say was that I miss the annual education department event. It was the highlight of the year at PUC for two reasons: 1) to see how competent the students had become in their presentation skills; and 2) to be with a group of denominational workers who whooped it up, laughed, and were generally less competitive and uptight than the pastors I had hung with for so long. It’s a huge difference in personality. Teachers are far more cooperative–one reason being the large numbers of women in the mix.
Thank you for your comments regarding Education Days, especially the banquet. There was more whooping and laughter this year, too. With women just starting to become pastors, at least in the SDA church, maybe a personality shift will take place there as well.
Hi Jim, I really loved this post – I think its so true of most things in life – we set out as young “freshmen” with such high hopes and plans of being such wonderful people. Never going to repeat the mistakes of our parents, never going to hold down a mundane, boring job etc etc. We do tend to get so caught up in all the “uncontrollables” and forget to manage what we can – making our lives happier. A great reminder of what we can “choose” to be! Thanks again, Jim Sheryl Date: Fri, 7 Feb 2014 19:22:13 +0000 To: email@example.com
Processing his situation with him provided a good reminder to me to try live by my own advice. It’s fascinating to me how quickly I can go toward the mode of blaming and being critical. Fortunately, it’s also fascinating how I can choose to think different thoughts and head another direction.