I know I haven’t written to you in a while, and for that reason, I have something that I really need to say. This is more important than almost anything you will hear today. You probably need to hear this as much as I need to say it. It has been too long since you have heard.
Teacher, you are important. You job is important. Every little thing you do with and for your students is important.
You are amazing. Each and every school day (and some non-school days) you spend putting your students first. Putting their needs above yours. Taking stands that they can’t for their future. Fighting fights that they have no clue need to be fought for them. You look to the world that needs them, and you are getting them ready for it.
You doubt yourself often, but you always know that you are doing something that few want to or could possibly do. And even though everything in the world tells you to stop…you keep going. You keep pushing. You keep moving. All for the sake of your students.
Thank you for all that you do. Thank you for all that you give up. Thank you for every ounce of energy and time that you put it. Thank you for, well, you.
Your students need you. Your school needs you. You community needs you. We need you.
Yes, Teacher, you are are amazing and important. Please never stop doing the good that you do. You really are making a difference. Know that you truly are appreciated. Please hold your head up high today.
Again, I thank you. You are so awesome. You are a great teacher. Keep on teaching, Teacher! You rock.
I had an epiphany this week. I wish I would have had this mind-blown moment years ago…it is going to revolutionize the way I think about teaching and my role as a teacher. I am almost ashamed to admit it, though. I have worked with teachers who live this out every day. It just didn’t sink in and click in for me until this week.
This mind-storm (pun intended…LEGO fans) was initiated by two things: a documentary about the man behind Segway scooters (and FIRST Robotics) and the story of LEGO Africa. The documentary is about Dean Kamen and how he is trying to solve the world’s clean water problem (which I think he might just do!). If you have Netflix, you really need to watch it; it’s called SlingShot. LEGO Africa is a program started by a 6 year-old boy with an idea and his father to send LEGO to schools and communities in Africa. It is an amazing program! I will share a video at the end about it.
Before that, I need to get back to my epiphany. Are you ready for it?
Teaching is not about teaching.
Now that I write it out, it doesn’t make sense. Maybe I need to add to this a little to fill in the gaps of thought. Let me try again.
Education is not about teaching…
The true heart of being an educator is not about delivering content…the internet does that on it’s own just fine (before that we had little things called books and encyclopedias). It is not about helping students learn the ins-and-outs and nuts-and-bolts of the world. It is not about making students feel better and increase their self-esteem (not that this is not important, but it is not the main goal of teaching). It is not wrapped up in the art of presenting and knowing all of the cool ways to use technology breakthroughs to be the best at it. It is not, obviously, about planning, grading, and keeping up with the latest and greatest PD. No, the role of being a teacher is not all about these things that define being a teacher in our society.
Education is much, much more than teaching.
At the core of education is something very much deeper than teaching. It is something almost indescribable. It is something we can’t put our finger on or even quite know for certain from where we stand. It is something that is vital to our planet more than ever, I believe, and the world that know won’t survive without it.
Education is about the future.
It is not about the here and now. It is not, quite frankly, about us. It is, however, the very heart and soul of generations to come. Our role as educators, especially the teachers at the front lines, is to prepare the leaders of tomorrow to solve the problems of today and make the world a better place. It is all about making tomorrow better without knowing what it will bring.
I actually am kidding there. It is slightly stressful to think about, but at the same time it is also freeing. It really lets you take stock of your true purpose in the classroom. You can drop back, reflect on all that you do, and then start fresh with a new perspective and drive.
A quick disclaimer…
As I continue, please know that I realize that content is important for all of this, but I am thinking more about our reasons and thoughts behind teaching content. What are we doing it for? Do we have a bigger purpose? I do believe there is a great picture here.
It is all about equipping leaders, thinkers, and doers.
Our job is to help students become who they need to be to lead the world to a better place than it is right now. We are making leaders that will look at what is going on and be determined to find ways to fix it. We are developing the thinkers that will be able to look at problems with fresh eyes and see new solutions to age-old problems. We are training doers that aren’t afraid to get dirty and do the work that needs to be done to clean up the messes that have been made. We are changing the world…but only from a distance.
So how, pray-tell, do we do this?
We have to come to our role as educators from a different perspective. We have to ask some hard questions:
- Are we giving our students practice at solving real problems and making this the reason that content is needed?
- Are we telling students how to learn or giving them opportunities to need to learn and find how they do that best on their own (with a lot of scaffolding)?
- Are we honest with students about what is going on in the world at-large and giving them opportunities to think up ways to help contribute to solutions?
- Are we giving students chances to think outside of themselves and show compassion to others (or at least to empathize with them)?
- Are we allowing students the time and space to work on ideas for helping others or solving problems in their communities?
I could go on and on, but I think you get it.
If you teach using PBL, than you have already thought through a lot of this. I do challenge you to keep thinking and questioning your true motives for how you teach…is it really about the future or getting the content in?
I am pretty sure that if you are reading this, you already think on this level. I just really wanted to share my thoughts on all of this today.
It truly hit home for me this week that there is a real world out there with so many problems that our students are going to have to grow up and solve. We need to start them thinking about this all now and giving them the opportunities to start working through it. They may already be able to come to better conclusions than we have!
To sum this really long post up…the Teacher’s gift is the future. It is ours to mold and take care of, but it is also ours to give. How are you doing with that gift?
You are awesome! I know you already think on these terms. Thanks for reading as I verbal process these thoughts and reflect on them! You really are making a difference and you are most definitely changing the future for the good! You rock! Keep on teaching, Teacher!
Here is the LEGO Africa video:
I know this week is full of excitement and anxiety…excitement for the students and anxiety for you. How are you going to keep their attention? How are you going to keep your attention? How can you contain and focus the craziness that is the week before Winter Break?
I don’t have a lot of advice for you. You have to find what works best for you, your students, and your situation. However, I did write a fun little poem a couple of years ago that will give you a little laugh as you face this week. I thought I would share it again this year. It is based on the poem, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore. Have a little giggle and enjoy!
‘Twas the Week/Day Before Break
I have always thought that The Walking Dead would make a much better title for a book or movie about teaching during cold and flu season. It’s no secret that we basically work in a Petri dish for viruses and bacteria. A whole lot of people all in one building together and a majority of those people struggle with hygiene and the concept of personal space. We really should be allowed to wear hazmat suits sometimes. Seriously.
We walk through the halls trying to avoid the infected. Handshakes and hugs become fast fist-bumps and vigorous application of hand sanitizer. Think about it. It is much like a zombie show or movie. We just don’t try to destroy the sick…although we are quick to recommend a phone call home or trip to the nurse…I guess that is kind of like a shot to the head for the cold and flu.
Anyway, the inevitable happens, and we become one of them. We get whatever is going around. Teachers get sick. It is a reality that is bound to happen, no matter the precautions we take. We become one with the zombies. We take the plunge into Walker-dom.
The most awful thing about getting sick as a teacher is that rest, getting better, and even going to the doctor is not that simple. This is one of the many things that I wish the world knew about the life of teaching. “Calling in a Sub” is not an easy task. It is, more times than not, easier just to play through the pain and just work sick.
Oh yes, we know that the other teachers are going to hate us for it. We are, in essence, upping the chances of their zombie-transformations. There is a slight chance that our own sickness came from the kindness of other teachers not wanting to bother a sub. And we are irritated by that, but at the same time the effort of going through the trouble of getting things set up for a substitute teacher is not always possible when you feel like you have been hit by a truck.
We have all done it. We have all avoided messiness of finding a sub, figuring out what to leave for students that sticks with pacing and what you have been doing, setting all of that up, dealing with the issues of the plans not being followed, and playing catch-up with students when you come back. We have gone in sick. We have because it is sometimes more restful just do that than all of that.
Sometimes we come in sick because we have to. There is a major test of some sort to give. There is a project that has to be finished. There is some kind of training during planning that is a one-time-only kind of thing. We come in because there is no other option.
Whatever the reason, we have all taught while sick. And now we are back to The Walking Dead. There is no better word for how that feels. We feel like walking dead. It is like the Theraflu commercial…
We are barely there. We are miserable. We feel bad. We feel worse that we might make other people sick. But we are there. We are trying to do what is right. It is the heart of the teacher in us.
Well, I would like to thank you for all of the times that you worked sick, Teacher. You are awesome to care so much for your students!
If you are experiencing this right now…like me…chin up. You will feel better eventually. It feels like being sick is your new reality, but colds and the flu go away. You will be back to yourself before long. Keep fighting!
And I would like to give you a piece of advice. If you can work up the muster to get everything together, call in a sub. You will be sick longer if you don’t rest. I know it is hard, but it is worth it. Many people have told you to look out for yourself, but it is true. You need to. Take care of yourself, Teacher.
You really are amazing. You are such a great teacher! I believe in you and you are making a difference! Keep on teaching, Teacher (even when your sick)!
I bet you might be thinking that the title of this note was just a gimmick to try to get you to read it. It wasn’t. Not that I don’t want you to read it…I do…I just have a point to make using the it. However, not yet. I want to tell you a little story first.
My little family and I had the awesome opportunity to spend Thanksgiving Break at the beach with my wife’s family. I am not much of a beach person, but there was something pretty great about being near the water, hearing the crashing waves, and being able to walk the beach with my sons and wife. I did, unfortunately, became a little obsessed with finding shells (and shark teeth).
There were plenty of common shells (clams, scallops, and the like), but I was after other game. I really wanted to find conch or nautilus shells…oh, and did I mention shark teeth? I kept looking for all of these, but all I found was a few broken pieces and thousands of common shells. I would see something out of the corner of my eye, veer of my path, and find it only to see it was more of the same.
I outlasted my boys and wife with each trip out. Still I couldn’t turn down the inner call to keep looking. I just knew I would find something!
I kept chasing the bits and pieces that I saw in the distance sure that I would find something rare and worried that I would miss out on it if I didn’t go after what I saw. No matter the disappointment, I kept chasing.
My oldest son kept asking me to go back. He wanted to just play in the sand. I could see the other family members down the beach having a good time together…and off the other way there was something that I just knew had to be what I was looking for. I had this moment where I knew that I just had to choose. Chase something that was not assured or savor the moments with my family.
A thought came to me…
There will always be another shell.
I talked back to that thought (not aloud, of course)…what if I miss out on something good.
There will always be another shell.
What if this is the shell I am looking for? What if it is a shark tooth?
There will always be another shell…and shark teeth aren’t that big, idiot!
I made a conscious decision to turn and go back. I go spend the quality time I always want to have with my family when I can’t have it. I went back with my son and had some fun on the beach. I dare say it was much better than not finding shells!
It hit me that this is something similar to what happens to us in education. I can only speak from a teacher’s perspective, but it seems like sometimes we are always chasing something off in the distance. The latest strategy, the newest assessment-style, or the latest book that will change everything in education. Not that any of these things are bad…they definitely aren’t…but it can be something we are constantly looking for all the while missing out on what is right in front of us.
Our students are here. Our students are now. They are why we do what we do. Despite the latest and greatest trends, what makes some of the biggest effects on how students learn is us and our relationships with them. We need to talk to them. Learn how they learn best. Help them learn how to learn on their own. This has to be our priority. It is the only way that true learning, understanding, and growth happens!
This means some serious thought into what we need to let go of sometimes. It can be a mere change of focus. It can mean putting things on the back-burner. It often will mean that we have to not always chase every “new” idea in education…some books may need to wait until summer to read, some conferences may need to be unattended, and some blog posts may need to be bookmarked for later. This doesn’t mean that these are not important things, it just means that some of them will have to wait for the sake of our students.
So. Back to the name of this post. It is so easy to get caught up in what we are told needs to happen right now. We can be led to believe that we need to stop everything to investigate what we might be missing. Just like me and the shell hunt, there may be something back in the other direction that is more worthwhile – quality time really getting to know and work with our students on their level.
Hitting pause on the things that seem vital for our growth as professionals can be quite difficult. But it is a reality that does occur (more often than we would like). As an educator, sometimes the hardest thing is letting go…but often it is the only way to move forward for the greater good of our students.
There will always be another shell.
There will always be another book.
There will always be another PD.
There will always be another blog post.
There will not always be another year with the students you have right now. Don’t let it slip away!
If I know you, though, I am preaching to the choir. You do realize these things most of the time. That’s what makes you awesome and an amazing teacher! Keep on make your students the ultimate priority and keep on teaching, Teacher!
Yesterday, I presented the idea of the #HowToTeacher Rules and gave you Rule 1 (if you haven’t read it, go there first…this post will make more sense if you do). I feel like that rule is key to being a great teacher. All other things that great teachers believe and do stem from the passion for teaching and learning. Rule 2 is tied very closely to the first, but it focuses on who you teach. These two rules are the key to all of the others!
You know what? Maybe I should tell you what Rule 2 is before I talk about how great it is. :) Let me do that now.
#HowToTeacher Rule 2: Great teachers believe firmly that ALL students can learn and they act on those beliefs.
Great teachers believe firmly that ALL students can learn an they act on those beliefs. This is just something that is in the DNA of great teachers. There does not seem to be any challenge too big for them. They are relentless in the idea that every student in their classroom can learn. It seems like they have a million tools in their bag of teacher tricks to try. Nothing that students can throw at them will change their minds that every student can learn.
Students with IEPs?
No problem. They have been to trainings, talked to other teachers, and read strategies for this just for fun.
ESOL students that have little to no English?
Great teachers have workbooks, translators, and are even learning the language the best that they can (almost enough to almost enough to say a couple of things to parents during conferences).
Class with five ADHD poster children all at once?
Multiple seating options, standing desks, a focus corner, and lots and lots of back-up activities for different learning styles.
They don’t know who they are messing with. “I can’t” or “I won’t” are not words that great teachers understand. They will find a way to reach those students (or die trying)!
I could go on and on, but you get where I am going here. Great teachers are not stumped by students with difficult situations or difficult students. Their belief in the ability of every student to learn trumps the challenges to make that happen. They live for the teaching and learning process (Rule 1), and they will not accept that anyone is not able to be a part of that process.
You know the teachers like this. They make other teachers frustrated with their refusal to think that any student student can not learn at the same level (with scaffolding) as the others. These teachers make the other teachers want to try harder and find a way to reach each and every student. They are relentlessly relentless!
This is the key to great teaching. You must not only believe that this is true, but you have to act like you believe it. Never give up on a student. Never stop finding ways to reach them. There is some way for each student to learn and you will find it!
How to find paths for each student will be covered in other #HowToTeacher Rules, but the belief that every student can learn has to got to come first!
I know you are one of the never-give-up teachers! You are one of the amazing ones that won’t take “I can’t” for an answer! I applaud you for that. You are an awesome teacher! Thank you for all that you do to reach your students! Never stop! Keep on teaching, Teacher!
Throughout my time in the classroom, I made great efforts to meet, talk to, and observe as many teachers as I can. In my role now as a STEM teacher at a Science Center, I see teachers with their classes everyday. Through the process of observing and talking to teachers, I have been able to come into contact with some of the greatest teachers…and there are definitely some commonalities and trends among them.
I have decided to try and put words to what I have seen and experienced when it comes to great teaching, and I am calling these observations the “#HowToTeacher Rules.” Take them for what they are worth. :) With this post I would like to present Rule 1:
#HowToTeacher Rule 1: Great teachers are passionate about the teaching and learning process.
Great teachers know that the journey of learning is more important than the destination of specific content. How students learn how to learn on their own is of the highest priority. No matter what the system says, great teachers (like you) make this rule one each and every year and day!
If you are reading this, something tells me you agree with this rule. You are one of those great and amazing teachers. You know that it is more about how to learn than rote knowledge. You stand up for what you believe when it comes to this…and that is one of the things that makes you awesome!
Keep on believing in the heart of education, keep up the good fight for it, and keep on teaching, Teacher!
PS…I apologize for any typos – I wrote this with my phone. :)