So, you had a rough year last year? I hear you. I was there, too. The word “challenge” barely covers it. It was quite a mix of difficulties all wrapped up into one not-so-glorious year.
But I survived.
And you survived.
And now that we have settled into summer a bit, it is time to do one last difficult thing related to last year…reflect.
Reflection is the key to growth and change as a teacher…especially after a tough class period, day, quarter, or year. When we reflect, we take stock of what went right and wrong, what we need to change for the better, and what we can let go of. The process can be painstaking, but it is therapeutic…and more than that, it is vital to making next year better.
As I was working through my own mental system of reflection today, I thought of a new approach to reflecting, but before I tell you about it, I need to tell you a story from this morning. I need to tell you about breakfast.
It all starts with muffins…
I do my wife a favor in the mornings when I can and get our boys going. This includes breakfast.
This morning, I decided to do a secondary favor. We had some overripe bananas and she talked about making banana bread yesterday. I had an epiphany…I can make banana muffins for breakfast! So, I looked up some recipes.
There was a problem, however.
As it seems, you need certain ingredients to make said banana muffins…not all of which were present in our cupboards. We had most of the staple products, but since today was shopping day some were missing.
You don’t know me that well, but if you did you would know that once I get an idea in my head to do something I do not give up easily. So, I pushed on. I know some recipe replacements, and I thought I knew enough to guess some others.
It was rough, but I was able to get something together that resembled batter…and I poured into the muffin tins and baked.
I had to keep adding a few minutes of time in the oven, but eventually they looked a lot like muffins.
I took them out. I tried one…
Honestly, they were not the worse muffins I have ever had, and if you added butter they were not too bad. They weren’t the best, but they were my muffins…and they would pass as breakfast.
So…what the heck does this have to do with teaching and reflecting?
Every year, we start of with some pretty high goals for our students and ourselves. We know that we have the basics that we come in with as teachers, but sometimes the ingredients in our classroom are not what we expected. We do our best with what we have and we strive towards those goals.
We have to alternate plans.
We have to do things a little different than “the norm.”
We have to compromise.
We have to make do.
But in the end, though our results may not be exactly what we hoped for, we still have results. Sometimes “kind of” results are okay. We did what we could with the resources at hand, our skills, and some ingenuity.
They may not be the best results, but they are our results.
As we reflect, we need to look at how everything went and see the positive in what we had at the end. Sometimes that can be more difficult than others that like to judge education will ever know, but they were not in our classroom and do not know our students.
Sometimes edible muffins are the best you can do with baking…and sometimes students getting through the year know more than when they started and able to learn more on their own than before are giant strides for the situation you are giving.
And that brings us to the looking forward side of reflection…this is where my new approach to reflection comes in…
You have got to take a good, long look at your “teaching pantry.” Ask yourself these hard questions and make a PANTRY LIST:
- What really went well last year that you can go into the new year armed with?
- What are your strengths as a teacher?
- What strategies vibe up well with your teaching personality?
- What is the upside to that teaching personality?
- How do you connect with students best (both inside and outside of the content)?
- What are your best improvs as a teacher?
These are the things currently in your pantry. This is what you bring to the table. These are what you can bank on being a part of you.
On the other side, you need to ask some harder questions and add these to your PANTRY SHOPPING LIST:
- What did not go well last year that shows a skill that you may be lacking?
- What is an aspect of teaching that is a weakness that is vital that you work on?
- What is something that you would like to learn from a teacher you think is a great teacher?
- What are ways that you know your classroom atmosphere needs to change?
- What are some ways that you do not connect well with students?
- What are your worst improvs as a teacher?
These are the things that you can work on this summer. DO NOT MAKE THE SHOPPING LIST LONG! Small steps get you in the right direction. Do not think of these things as what you are bad at…think of them as things you would like in your teaching pantry. Spend some time this summer making a “supply run.” Pick something to read a book about. Attend a PD session over the summer. Find a teacher good at one of these things, buy her/him lunch or coffee, and pick their brain. Make a plan for getting some new ingredients in the cupboard. And don’t forget to rest!
I hope that this made sense!
What is in your teacher pantry? What do you need to go shopping for? Share here and perhaps we can all help you find some resources,
Teacher, you are amazingly awesome! I bet you already reflect on this level and I am preaching to the choir. If not, please don’t give up. Your students and all of the other teachers need you! You are amazing. Keep on teaching, Teacher!
I know that is has been a long time since I have written to you. It has been quite a school year, and I am entering a time of transition. Before I get to that, let’s talk about this past year.
How did it turn out for you? How did everything go? If you are reading this, you made it out alive, so that is something. :)
It was quite a year for me. There is not one word to describe it. It was challenging. It was trying. It was stressful. It was enlightening. It was strange. It was insightful. It was life-changing. It was. It just was.
I don’t know that I had a more difficult year with students. It wasn’t their behavior so much as it was their attitude towards learning. In a time when the stakes could not be higher for students to show growth, it seemed like my students were the least interested in growing. Was it like that for you this year?
That made teaching rough. I believe in students having the responsibility of learning and turning that responsibility over to them throughout the year. So many did not want to take those reigns from me. My classroom was student-centered, but I found that I wound up in the center so many times just to get through content.
I learned a lot about motivating students and a lot about motivating myself. How do I keep going with the idea of being brain-centered and student-centered when it seems like I am gaining so little ground. I learned to keep my head down and keep going down the road and trusting what I know is right for my students…but it was hard. Very hard. That is one of the reasons that I wrote so little to you this year.
But I made it.
You made it.
We made it!
I want to encourage you, Teacher. If it was a hard year for you, as it was for me, there is hope. You can do anything for a year and then you can look forward to the next. You know what is right for your students, even if they do not. Take some time and reflect this summer. What went right? What went wrong? Where do you need to dig in and keep going? What are some things you can let go of next year?
Keep on keeping on. Do what you know is right. Take a stand for what needs to be stood up for. Be the awesome teacher that you are.
Not every year will go well. Sometimes there will be a string of bad years. Sometimes your working environment will be challenging. Sometimes you will want to pack it in.
Remember one thing, though.
Your students need you. They really do.
If you keep doing what is right, day after day and year after year, things will eventually go right for you in ways that you know you are going in the right direction. Trust me.
A little about my life and transitions…
After nine years of trying to be the best teacher that can be at a Title I school and having strings of difficult years, there has been a change. My hard work was noticed. I was hired to work at my district’s science center. I will be moving out of the traditional classroom and be teaching students from all over my district and my area throughout the year.
It was difficult to pack up and leave my school for good after being there for so long…there were some tears…but I know that this is right. I am going to love every minute of my new job and I will be able to help more students fall in love with learning and help other teachers learn new ways to foster that love in students, too.
That being said, that leaves this blog in a state of flux. I need a little feedback here.
Since I will no longer be in the normal classroom, will you still accept my encouragement and advice here? How can I stay current with the struggles that you have in your classroom? How can I change the format of the blog to help you stay encouraged?
One thing I know that I can do is offer for you to email and let me know of a struggle in the classroom you are having. I can write directly to what you are going through here (keeping out any personal information). Would that be a helpful aspect to this blog? (My email is email@example.com.)
Let me know any ideas that you have! Thanks!
Teacher, take some time for yourself this summer. Find ways to recharge and heal from the year. Don’t spend too much time getting ready for the next round. Just be for a while. Just be.
You are so awesome! I know that next year will be even better than this one was! Keep on doing what is right and keep on teaching, teacher!
Last week I wrote to you about holding on to the magic that makes you special as a teacher. It is your magic that keeps your students engaged. It is one of the keys to avoiding burnout (at least it can make the burnout take longer). It is what you live for as a teacher when your students minds are blown and they are left with the “aha” moments of learning that stick with them for the rest of their lives.
Yes, your personal magic is pretty important, and you better hang on to it for dear teaching life!
How do you tap into your personal teaching magic and how do you develop it deeper and create more?
As far as the magic that you already contain in the classroom goes, I can’t really help you from here. You have to reflect and think about what it is that the students latch on to and help them connect with you. Is it you dynamic story-telling? Is it how you build relationships? Is it how you know just what to say to make someone feel better about life? Is it how you connect with students that no one else can? Is it how you can make the most mundane and boring subjects come to life? I don’t know, but you can find out if you aren’t sure.
Talk to students.
Take a survey.
Ask other teachers what they hear from students about you.
You may not always like what you hear, but you might be surprised on what you find out students like about you. What they like is probably tied to your magical side.
It can be rough sometimes, but doing the investigative work will help you find what you can build on to make the magic happen time and time again in your class.
Once you find out, then research.
Look for teachers that are good at the same things, and find out what they do and how they use their magic. Magicians learn from magicians and then make the magic their own. Teachers need to do the same.
Research online. Are there teachers and non-teachers that are good at the same brand of magic? What do they do? How do they use their magic in life and work? What makes them magical? How can you replicate and adapt that style of magic for your classroom and students?
Lastly, look for ways to personalize your magic and make it meaningful to your specific students. How can you involve them? How can you make them a part of your “show?” Can you have students share in your magic? Can they be your magician’s assistants? Can you develop some magic apprentices?
I know I am talking in vagaries right now, but that is all I can do because personal magic is, well, personal. It is different from teacher to teacher and class to class. I hope this made sense to you, even so.
I wanted to write a little about how to find more personal magic than you already know, but I think I will save that for later this week. A lot of it is tied to you and what interests you in life. I found out about something amazing this weekend that is directly tied to personal magic, but I want to make it a post all on its own. I will leave you with a link and let you make the connection to personal magic on your own until I am able to write further about it.
You are amazing. You are magical. You do reach your students. You are making a difference! I know you are…even when you don’t feel like it. Never give up and keep on teaching, Teacher!
I am sorry that I have had little to no time to write to you this school year. Like you, I have been pulled in a thousand different directions today, and it has taken everything inside of me to keep focused on the one thing that matters: my students. It has beat me up to do this, but I think that, most days, I have kept that focus.
And, also like you, I am tired.
I do not always have the energy to be the awesome, dynamic teacher that I can be. I have kept to my commitment to pursuing the goal of my students learning and learning how to learn on their own, but I have lost a little bit of the spark that makes me a good teacher some days. The exhaustion of keeping up with all of the spinning plates that we are given makes that hard…if not impossible from time-to-time.
Spinning Plates Image: Wikipedia Commons
We lose some of what makes us great. It happens to us all. It is inevitable. It is real life.
So what do we do about it?
I do not think that we can avoid losing some of our teacher “fire.” It is an unavoidable reality.
No, I do not think that keeping all of our teacher flames burning is the key here. No. If we try to do that. We burn out and we are not much good for anyone.
No, keeping a large bonfire of teaching enthusiasm is not what you or I need to strive for…not at all.
I think what we need to do is keep the right embers burning. If we maintain intensity on the right aspects of teaching, we will avoid flaming out and be able to rekindle our fires once the smoke clears.
(Am I overusing the analogy? Probably. But I press on.)
So what do we make sure that we do not lose in the battle of every day teaching life?
Some of it will be different from teacher to teacher, grade to grade, state to state, and person to person, but there is definitely one thing that makes all of the difference in the world for our students that I do not think any of us can afford to lose. It hit me this year as I had to reflect after some very difficult weeks.
And what is that “one thing,” Teacher?
It is very simple, difficult, easy, and impossible…all at once.
You need to keep the magic.
The magic of teaching is what will keep bringing your students (and most definitely you) back for more over and over again, no matter how hard the going gets.
“What do you mean by magic?”
Magic is the mystical side of teaching. It is the not-so-quantifiable relationship between wonder, teaching, and learning. It is the “Aha-moment,” curiosity, and awe that students can have when they are truly engaged in learning about language, math, science, and history. It is the amazement factor of teaching. Those moments when the students are wide-eyed and hanging on every moment in your classroom and every word that you say. It is when sighs of frustration ring through your room when the students hear the bell.
This is the magic of teaching.
It is never every minute in your class, nor should it be. These are the crescendos to the momentum that you build with every experience that you give your students. They are what you build up to as you plan and teach. It is the moment when you can almost physical see the students make the mental connection to what they are learning.
It is the moment that every teacher lives for…it is magic for the students, but it is also magic for the teacher.
It is this magic that you have to protect, against all odds.
This magic is why you teach. This magic is what makes students want to learn. This magic is what makes school…well…magical.
How can you be sure to keep this magic alive?
That is up to you. Magic in my classroom is different from magic in your classroom. You have to figure out where the magic is for you. I have to know where the magic is for me. And we both need to make sure that the noise of education does not drown out the magic of teaching and learning for us or our students.
I teach science. For me, the magic is tied up in letting the students explore a concept. I dress it up in a problem of some sort. I let the students tackle the problem from their current understanding. I keep some of the things they need to learn hidden…like in a magic trick. When they think they have things sorted out, I introduce something that most students did not know…which usually makes their solution not work the way that they thought it should. I then give them the big picture of the concept. That is when students start to make the connections and see the real solution(s). This is the “aha” that I live for as a teacher. This is where students learn on their own (helped along by the the Teacher-Magician). This is teaching and learning, in my eyes.
This is the magic.
This is what I can’t afford to lose. No matter what.
What is the magic for you?
How will you keep it in spite of everything?
How will you make it key to what happens in your classroom?
Teacher, I know that it is hard. It is less hard when you remember what makes you special as a teacher and you hold on to it for dear life! I know you know what makes you special. I know that you know what makes your class magic. You have what it takes to make that central, and you have what it takes to hold on to that. You have what it takes to be a great teacher. Be that great teacher! You are awesome! You are amazing! You are making a difference! Keep on teaching, Teacher!
If you are like me, this school year has you drowning in the churning mix of expectations, programs, and voices telling you what you should be doing to best teach your students.
Not that these things are wrong. You are listening. You are trying. You are implementing all that you can.
But something inside of you feels lost.
You feel like a broken teacher.
I have gotten there this year, too. You are not alone.
However, something occurred to me when I was bemoaning the educational lot that I have been given this year. Maybe this “something” will help you the way that it helped me.
I am a good teacher!
I sometimes actually know what I am doing!
I have been to training after training. I have some natural abilities. I have the gift of experience on my side.
I can teach!
I am a teacher.
This thought was like the sun peeking up over the horizon of the morning of the darkest night. Hope was renewed inside of me. I felt like a new person…no. I felt like an old person. I felt like the person and teacher I used to be.
I realized that I know how to reach my students. I remembered that I know how to help them learn and become learners on their own. I have this. I can do this. I can teach!
It is not always perfect and I have a lot to learn, but I cannot discount what I can already do. I need to build on what I have, not tear down the house and try to rebuild.
I know what my students need, and if I don’t I know how to find out. Not only do I know the needs, I know how to meet them. I know how to get the process of learning to be a constant in my classroom.
I can do this!
The same goes for you, Teacher. No matter how beat-up by the extra “stuff” that you feel, you are a good teacher. You know your students. You have what it takes to get to them and get them to learn. Don’t forget this. Don’t lose this.
You still need to try to do what you are asked, keep learning, and keep listening, but you need to build on what you are already good at doing, too. You can’t fight the current of things, but you can swim with that current and get your students where they need to be.
You need to be the teacher that your students need you to be…and that teacher is you. You have what it takes. You’ve got this. Even on the hardest days.
Do not give up! I know that it is hard. But you are surrounded by others just like you. We feel the same things. We are great teachers. We know what to do. Let’s get out there and to it!
Let’s just keep swimming and do what is right. We will get our students where they need to be by being who we need to be.
Are you with me?
Good. Now let’s teach like we mean it today. Let’s be the teacher that we were and that we can be! Our students need us to!
You are so awesome! You really are a great teacher! You know what you need to do. Do it. You’ve got this. Don’t give up! Keep on teaching, Teacher!
I am sorry that my words of encouragement have been few and far between this year. It has been a rough and busy school year.
But I guess that this is not news to you.
As I talk to and get feedback from other teachers, I am hearing the same thing from them. It is a tough year. There is no time. It is all that I can do to keep my head above water.
We are all just trying to survive this year, aren’t we.
It isn’t easy for any of us, even the most veteran teachers.
This school is is just plain difficult.
I have some good news and some encouragement for you today.
The Good News: For most of us, this school year is half-way over!
And there was much rejoicing.
You know what takes to be a good teacher. Nay. You know what it takes to be a GREAT teacher. You know because you are one.
I know that this is a trying year. There is so much extra on your plate. There are so many curve balls to contend with and handle. There is just a lot of…well…everything this year. It is not easy to let your greatness show.
But, you awesome teacher, you, know what your students need. You know what is best. You know how to reach and teach even the most difficult students in your class. You know what it takes to get your students where they need to go. You have the knowledge and the know-how!
I have four words for you: Stick to your guns!
Stay true to the teacher that you know you are. Sometimes that means having to fight battles over what is best for your classroom. Sometimes you just have to go through the motions of the extra that you are asked to do. Sometimes you need to let a few of those unneeded plates drop (you know all of those many plates that you have to spin for the sake of spinning and not for the sake of the precious ones in your class). Sometimes you just have to stand up for what is right.
It is not always easy to do, but you have to remember who you are there for…your students.
I know, there is voice after voice after voice telling you the best way to do your job. Sometimes those voices are right. Sometimes you are already doing a good job and can afford to put some voices on mute. Have the courage to do that. Find the voices that count, but don’t forget your own.
Be courageous and do what needs to be done today.
Make your students your goal.
Remember them today.
You can do it!
You are awesome and I completely believe in you! You have what it takes to do what it takes. You are making a difference! You are strong and courageous. I know that you will make choices today that will help your students be everything that they can be! Keep going! Keep on teaching, Teacher!
You may have had a great day yesterday. It might have been a bad one.
You might be facing difficulty at school today. You might be looking forward to the best day ever.
You might be energized from break. You might be completely worn down from the school year.
I don’t know where you lie in the the spectrum of these between the extremes, but I do know one thing.
You are a great teacher.
It doesn’t always feel that way. As a matter of fact, it seems like the curve balls of life want you to believe anything but that is true.
But it is true.
Teaching is hard, and getting harder, but you are good at it. You have a knack for it. You are skilled. You have gifts and talents that make you one of the best.
Don’t listen to the doubt.
You know what you are doing.
You make good decisions for the betterment of your students.
All difficulties seem in the distant past when what you are doing for the sake of students pans out in the end.
You can rest assured of the fact that you are a good teacher. Cling to that for dear life.
Things always get better. You know this.
Be that excellent teacher that you are. Stand firm. Keep fighting. Keep going.
Do what you are meant to do…and be great at it! You’ve got this!
Teacher, you are amazing. You are awesome! Do not let the world around you beat you up. We go through storms as teachers, but we can ride them out. Never lose faith in what you are meant to do. You are a teacher. You are meant to teach. Hang on, Friend, it will get better! Keep going, fighting, and never stop teaching!