Usually I don’t have much trouble finding my stride with my students. I’ve been teaching for a long time, and things normally get off to a pretty smooth start. But something happened this year that really messed with my head. Somehow, I lost myself. I lost my direction. And I lost the type of teaching that I’ve always been passionate about. My “why” went missing.
Midlife Teaching Crisis
I work at a pretty amazing school. It has great students, lots of freedom, minimal testing, and rigorous academics. We are an IB (International Baccalaureate) school and have students who frequently attend the top universities in the country.
But I think that got to my head. I forgot my favorite quote:
“The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.” (Plutarch)
One of my biggest passions is transforming education from an industrial revolution system to something that inspires students to learn and engages them in their own education. This is what got most lost. I got focused on some imaginary idea of what I thought I needed to do and what type of teacher I needed to be. I looked at other teachers and thought I needed to be more like them. I looked at the rigor of IB and forgot that there are lots of ways to develop critical thinking, and deep learning.
And things just exploded.
It wasn’t pretty. I had upset parents, upset students, and it felt like things were spiraling downwards, fast.
And then I talked with one our school counselors who reminded me to stop taking myself so seriously.
That was when I realized how lost I’d become. And started to find my way back.
Teachers have a lot of pressure on us. It’s even more true if we teach at public schools where mandated tests and complicated (and absurd) teacher assessment systems breathe down our necks. Yet, teachers continue to rise to the occasion and passionately fight for the students they inspire. The diversity of teachers and their styles is a boon to the educational system, and this is something that seems to be at risk (with standardized everything everywhere).
Through my journey this quarter, I learned that I am not everyone else. I don’t think like them, and I don’t teach like them. The things that make me unique are the things that make me good at what I do. And when I lose those things by trying to teach the way others teach, everybody loses. Me, especially.
I’ve also learned that as much as I love technology, sometimes a low-tech activity is what gets students engaged. I use technology all.the.time. Every single day. I love it. I teach with it and about it. But, my students (who are high schoolers) still love it when I give them paper and crayons or markers. They still appreciate being able to physically mark a text. And they love it when I break out the play-do.
And lastly, I remembered that each new group of students is different. Each student is different. What worked for last year’s students, may not work for this group of students (and it didn’t). So, it’s about finding diverse activities. And different methods of delivery. And a variety of options for demonstrating learning. However, these activities, methods, and options still need to reflect my style. Even if I’m working and planning with other grade-level teachers, I can make it mine. That’s important.
While none of this is necessarily revolutionary, it helped me find my “Why” again.