EdCamp: a PD oasis in a desert of duds

BAM, consonance on D and S!

More importantly, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the strange creature that is professional development. I distinctly remember being a student teacher and looking so forward to my first PD experience. I thought, “Oh WOW am I ever ready to be professionally developed! This is going to be so great and.. developing! And.. professional!”

Fast forward a handful of years and that naïve enthusiasm has pretty much vanished like a bag of potato chips during PMS week.

PD is perhaps one of the biggest enigmas in my field of work. It’s called professional development and yet, when you go, you often leave feeling irritable and tired. You feel kind of like you’ve wasted your time. Like the stuff the people were presenting about was exactly the same stuff you heard about last year. And the year before that. Catch words/phrases like “21st-Century Learning,” and “differentiation,” and “inquiry” sort of get tossed about like the daily weather report. Everyone’s already heard about it but we’re going to talk about it anyway. Turn around, see someone you haven’t mentioned it to yet. Discuss ad nauseum. Feel developed yet?

Don’t get me wrong. Much of PD is like this but once in a while, you go to a session that restores your faith in good PD. I HAVE had worthwhile, enlightening, brilliant PD sessions. I would be remiss to write any kind of post about PD without mentioning Kelly Gallagher at least once. You might have already read my post about my first-ever (and so far, only) Twitter #engchat experience, but I joined in that day solely because he was facilitating the discussion(s). His books are on my wishlists and his website is a gem of a resource. If you teach English Language Arts/literacy, you definitely want to peruse that site. Other than Kelly’s PDs, I’ve attended some other great sessions on adolescent writers, film studies, teen cognitive development, differentiation, and assessment.

That said, I’ve definitely found myself in more bad PD than good, and have occasionally been embarrassed by my own “Oops I fell asleep” head bob. I use the desert analogy in my post title not simply for the alliterative delightfulness, but also because when we think about deserts, we think about… well, I think about camels. But generally, we think about thirst. And I thirst for good PD. I thirst for PD that is meaningful, worthwhile, relevant. PD that is real. PD that does what I think PD is supposed to do.

What I think PD is supposed to do is present something new. We keep saying, “Oh, let’s talk about differentiation in a new, exciting way!” but then we default to “What is differentiation?” and “What are learning styles?” and the same stuff we did last year. I’m not interested in talking about theoretical stuff anymore. I want something concrete. I want teaching ideas. I want cues. I want what Kelly Gallagher calls “ways in.” I want fresh perspectives that are coming directly from the front lines — from educators who, like me, face the joys/fears/excitement/self-loathing that comes with being in the classroom every day with young people, hoping to make a difference.

And there is a lot of PD that is led by people who are no longer actively working in a school setting. I don’t know how to feel about those sessions. And what I’m about to say may be more ignorant than anything else… But the truth is that when push comes to shove, and I’m faced with a choice of “Hear from someone who is teaching/working in schools TODAY” and “Hear from someone who has worked in a downtown office for five years,” I’m going to pick the former. Not because I think the second person has nothing to offer, but because I think teaching is one of those professions that evolves on a daily basis (and that strangely/paradoxically/maddeningly/[insertadverbhere] also never changes.. hmm).

I also think it’s somewhere between hysterically funny and horribly tragic that we’ll actually go to PDs on inquiry- or discovery-based learning and have a person LECTURE us for two hours straight. What? Did I miss something?

I’m lucky to have made friends and worked with some pretty fantastic professionals in my first real teaching job. The ladies in my department were (and still are) just utterly fabulous human beings, and I really learned to be more vocal about my work and to share my ideas because of my friendships with them. One day, one of my English Department colleagues, Erin, started talking about something called EdCamp. It’s supposed to be an “unconference” and is essentially PD that is organized and facilitated and attended by teachers. EdCamp is for people who want to talk about what they want to talk about. There are some driving concepts behind EdCamp: 1) EdCamp is generally free or low-cost. 2) EdCamp topics are decided THAT day by the people in attendance so that they can discuss what matters to them. 3) EdCamp strives to provide opportunities for people to ditch the theoretical nonsense and get to the practical application of teaching principles/ideologies in their classrooms. 4) EdCamp is collaborative and it is centered around professional sharing. 5) EdCamp is awesome.

Erin and some others assembled an EdCamp Edmonton organization team and put on the first EdCamp Edmonton last November. It was everything I hoped it would be. My best friend (French Immersion, 1ère année) even came with me to soak everything up. I invited my friend Megan to join in, too. Megan, by the by, has the greatest teacher Tumblr ever, and is a forward-thinking, ingenious, incredibly-well-dressed woman who I admired even when we were Ed students together. I continue to be fascinated by her ideas and vision and frankness about everything she does.

We were joined by a bunch of other wonderful, inspiring people, who helped to make EdCamp 1.0 a success (Click that link to check out our Google Doc from the day!), so I was looking forward to this year’s EdCamp with great zeal. And rightfully so.

Some highlights of this year’s EdCamp for me included meeting new people and finding inspiring Tweeps to follow, as well as seeing some familiar faces from last year. I was also super stoked to contribute to a wickedly amazing Google Doc that became yet another invaluable piece of PD documentation. I loved eating a predictably delicious lunch made with love by Erin’s parents. I felt enriched and challenged and hopeful while talking about Project/Problem-Based Learning, Poetry, Reading Comprehension and all things ELA, awesome websites for educational use, and current events in the classroom. We did a particularly fun activity towards the end of lunch hour that was named, “Things that Suck,” wherein some contentious educational topics were presented and we physically moved to place ourselves on a continuum of “for” or “against” and debate back and forth. We debated grades, technology, homework, and… something else. It was so. much. fun.

And throughout all of this, perhaps the one thing that was the BEST part of EdCamp was this: I felt, as I did at the last EdCamp, that I’m not alone in the way I feel about my job. Here you had a passionate group of educators who got together on a Saturday to discuss their craft, to bemoan the obstacles and policies that hinder us from doing what we’d like to do, and to celebrate the things we have been able to do. We were a group of people who see that rigorous, standardized testing is killing our kids (and us); who see that assessment practices need to change; and who realize that in the most paradoxical way, the best way we can teach is by stepping aside (sometimes) and giving our students the space they need so they can actually learn. I can’t tell you how amazing that felt. It makes me laugh to think that schools spend hundreds of dollars per teacher annually to send us to PD and yet, some of the most meaningful PD I’ll get all year was for free.

EdCamp came at just the right time, especially while I’m nearing the first report card and really coming to terms with this whole new world of teaching challenges and with the room for growth in my professional practice. EdCamp and the fantastic, beautiful people who attended it reminded me to keep trying to do things differently, not to let myself be jaded, and to keep pushing myself to do what’s best for my students rather than what’s easiest for me.

Hope I’ll see you at the next one.



Filed under PD

An impromptu post about bullying and Amanda Todd

Today one of my friends posted a status update on Facebook that I felt compelled to address. He’s probably sick of me at this point because pretty much every time he posts about issues surrounding education and/or the youth of today, I immediately jump into the fray and argue with him. He’s actually a really great guy, but I don’t think we see eye-to-eye on a lot of issues (especially the No Zero Policy.. that’s a post for another time, though). Anyway, he was sounding off because he feels that the children of today are overly-sheltered, babied, and subsequently, entitled. Part of what provoked my friend’s ire was that the topic of government-backed, anti-bullying initiatives has been flying around a lot lately following the suicide of Amanda Todd. He wondered why it is that the government didn’t bring this up before now. He wondered what was going on with Amanda Todd’s parents and why they didn’t step in. He pointed out that we’ve all been bullied before and that kids today are getting soft. I didn’t entirely disagree with his points, but I did feel that a few of the things he said required attention and consideration to the ubiquitous “other side.”

Before I go any further, I should say that I’m not sure, at this point, how widespread the story of Amanda Todd is now. In Canada, it is certainly a hot topic. I linked to everyone’s favourite nonauthoritative source above and I recommend that you read further about Amanda Todd’s story elsewhere too, but otherwise, I’ll try to keep this brief.

To catch you up, Amanda Todd was a fifteen-year-old girl living in B.C. What started as online chatting at the age of twelve or thirteen soon spiraled out of control when an adult, online predator got her to send him a photo of her bare breasts. He later used this photo to blackmail her. Eventually, after an unfortunate series of missteps that were fueled, no doubt, by shaky self-esteem, a desire to be loved and admired, and the foolhardy recklessness of youth, she found herself in a pretty sad situation. People harassed her in person and online (mostly the latter). People assaulted her. People used her. People tormented her. People tore her down until she felt compelled to take her own life not once, not twice, but three times until she was finally successful in her attempts. She made a YouTube video using flashcards to tell her heartwrenching story. The video went viral. Upon the discovery of her body this past weekend, the video has become one of the most talked-about things online.

Now, her story is all over the news. There is talk about introducing a motion in the Canadian House of Commons to address bullying, to provide more funding to anti-bullying organizations, and to start discussions about bullying prevention in our fair country. Personally, I think it’s about time. At my old school, I helped run an anti-bullying group that, deep down, was an unofficial Gay-Straight Alliance (We were underground for political reasons, not because we didn’t want to be “out”). We focused a lot of our time on anti-homophobia initiatives, but also addressed bullying in general. I think it’s a really worthy topic of discussion and I do think that people lack awareness about how our students/children treat each other in and now more prevalently, outside of school. I ended up writing quite a long response on my friend’s Facebook, and, as I reread it (I always reread my posts to check for grammar because I’m a nerd), I thought that I’d actually just like to share what I wrote. I’m editing some bits for clarity below, but more or less, this is what I said. Again, these are just my own personal thoughts and opinions.. you can take ’em or leave ’em.


First of all, an important point to note: Kids are stupid crippled by their lack of experience. They get themselves into shitty scenarios not because they want to, but because a lot of them haven’t been taught how to behave online. They are born into an online world and don’t know how to interact properly, much like how when we are born, we don’t know how to speak.

Second, a lot of kids these days turn to social media as an outlet rather than discussing their issues with their parents. Kids are more secretive today than they once were because they have methods of communication that don’t require them to speak aloud. When I was younger, if I was on the phone with a friend, it was for a limited time and sometimes with my parents in the room; the contents of my conversation could easily be heard. Now, kids can text, email, Facebook, tweet, BBM, etc. all in silence without mom or dad knowing what they’re up to. They can do it in broad daylight, in public places, at home, on the toilet, and even while they’re laying in bed at all hours of the night. Kids have access to a whole world of information and attention that we didn’t have when we were growing up. I didn’t even have a computer with internet in my home until I was thirteen.

Compared to the world in which we grew up, this is a different world that our kids live in. Because it is a different world, policies, the way we approach child-rearing, and education practices are changing… and they need to continue to change. Bullying isn’t just schoolyard stuff anymore like it was when we were young. Now you can go home and be bullied online in your own bedroom whereas before, you could go home and feel safe. Now, nowhere is safe because of social media. And because social media is so open, it means that if you make one dumb mistake, it’s out there for thousands millions of people to see and hear about. So yeah, there have always been bullies. There always will be. But the type of bully we have today is very different, much more resourceful, and much more dangerous than the bullies we had when we were young.

So, why is Amanda Todd generating all this attention? Is it because of her YouTube video? Yes, absolutely! Social media is what made her story into a big deal. Social media is the reason why other girls/boys like her will hopefully start speaking out against their aggressors (which reminds me that the It Gets Better Project was a HUGE deal thanks to social media). Social media is the reason why the talk about anti-bullying legislation/policies is happening. If Amanda Todd hadn’t made that video in September, and more importantly, if it hadn’t been shared all over the internet since then, then important conversations about bullying might not happen today. And they are conversations that we DO need to have. She might have done some stupid things (Refer to point one: kids do stupid things), but she was a kid. She was unfortunate to have made a lot of mistakes online, where she has an audience of millions. She was unfortunate not to have had any substantial interventions when her parents realized that their child was in a dangerous position, though I acknowledge that they at least moved her once. But unlike so many teens who tragically end their lives in silence, she told her story. She used social media — the exact thing that was her undoing — as her tool for getting the word out. And now, here we are talking about it. Even if some people view her video as a cry for attention, even if people denounce her as an “emo teen,” even if people are busy mocking her because they are ignorant and insensitive, the fact is that she’s done something pretty amazing, The fact is that we’re talking about her, and that was the whole point.

Suicide, obviously, is never the answer, but I want to avoid passing judgment because I don’t know what it was like to be her. So many people are busy saying, “Oh, I was bullied, but I learned to be street smart. I learned to be tougher. I learned to walk away.” Okay, well, I was bullied as a pre-teen and well into my late teens, too, but there are degrees of bullying just like there are degrees of poverty. We all know what it’s like to just pay our bills, and maybe we know what it’s like to feel stressed out about not having enough money to live. But many of us can’t sit here and say that we know what it’s like to be homeless with absolutely nothing. Many of us have never experienced abject poverty. In the same way, yeah, I know how miserable it is to be bullied but I don’t know what it’s like to not want to live anymore.

I just want to say that again because it’s crazy to say. There are kids who are bullied to the point that they don’t want to LIVE. There are kids who hurt their physical bodies because they want to forget the emotional pain they have. There are kids who can hardly function because they are crippled with fear. There are kids who are so scared to socialize with their peers that they make themselves physically ill with anxiety.

We don’t know them. We don’t know what it’s like to be them. We don’t have the right to blame and scapegoat the parents, the education system, the society we live in for making our kids so prone to suffering. I think it’s reductive and insulting for us to click our tongues and say that Amanda Todd and other bullied, desperate children like her are this way because of X, Y, Z. Sure, maybe some of them are pampered/sheltered. Sure, maybe some of them need to grow a thicker skin. But I can tell you that I’m on the frontlines every day with teenagers and I see the pain bullying causes. I see it, and I feel it, and I thank the powers that be that I’m not a teenager today. Because bullies today are NOT the bullies of our youth.

As a last point, I’m not saying that the kids who are bullied are without a certain level of agency, or that they don’t have a duty to make responsible, reasonable decisions when they feel that they are in danger. I’m not saying that the kids who are bullied are always victims or that they are always innocent. I’m not saying that the kids who are bullied are angels who did nothing to attract the hatred of their peers, nor am I saying that anyone ever “deserves” to be bullied. I’m also not saying that we should actively shelter our kids or fight their battles for them or let them believe that they are unable to take measures to protect themselves. But I do believe in policies or legislations that address bullying, especially cyber bullying.. not because I think kids deserve to be pampered but because I don’t think that protecting kids from bullying is pampering them. We’re so quick to dismiss these issues because our kids are “entitled brats” with silver spoons in their mouths. And yet, if these same things were happening to our grandparents (people who, like kids, are potentially easy to take advantage of because they are not as savvy about the modern world we live in or because they are perhaps fragile), we’d immediately prosecute for elder abuse.

So instead of thinking that this is an issue about children, let’s treat it as an issue about human dignity. IT IS NOT OKAY TO TREAT OTHER PEOPLE LIKE SHIT. That’s it. End of story. I say, bring on that legislation.


Thanks for stopping by. Special thanks to my thoughtful friends Steph and Shelby for helping nudge me into making some important post-publishing edits to this post.

What do you think about the difference betwen bullies then and bullies now? Does the story of Amanda Todd prompt more in your warm, teacher hearts than just issues of anti-bullying? What about digital citizenship and actively working to educate our babies about how vulnerable the internet (and they) can be? As users of social media, how can we best help our kids to understand the way it can be used for good and for evil?

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Filed under Policies, Reflection

Emerging from seclusion

For the last two years, I was a bit of a classroom hermit.

I didn’t mean to hide in my classroom all the time. It just sort of happened. I found that our staffroom was strangely vacant most of the time, and even at lunchtime, of sixty staff, maybe there would only be about ten people in there. Being inherently lazy, I lost interest in walking to the staffroom. Besides, if I stayed in my classroom, I could eat and Tweet at the same time! I figured that if so few people were eating in the staffroom, I probably wasn’t missing much by not going there to eat. And anyway, no one seemed to be missing me, either.

Aside from that, kids always found a reason to come by my room at lunch. Maybe they wanted to chat with me, or maybe they wanted to practice a dance routine for an upcoming debut. Sometimes, they were practicing their singing, craving a quiet place to read and study, or needing a large area to work on a poster for their school committee. I started to love eating lunch in my room. It was comfortable to do so, and I felt happy knowing that students saw my classroom as a nice place to be on their downtime. I often even had kids in my room when we had coinciding spares. Being in my classroom really helped me develop my relationship with my kids and establish my classroom as a place of trust.

Now that I’m at my new school, lunchtime is not nearly as “free” as it was at the high school. At lunchtime here, the kids are all designated a specific place to eat their lunch according to grade. That means that for the most part, the hallways are completely empty for the first fifteen minutes of lunch. For whatever reason, I’ve continued to hole up in my classroom.

I started getting flack from my colleagues about a week and a half ago about my reclusive tendencies. It was an odd experience, being chastised by my new coworkers for not coming to eat lunch with them. I’d never felt missed like that before. In High School, it seems like a given that everyone is so busy and there are a million clubs and teams and supervision and photocopying and, and, and. You kind of expect not to see each other. But my school this year is small. There are only eleven teachers in total. So when one of us is missing, it’s obvious! I know that it’s important to get out of my shell, make friends, and be available so that I can socialize with the other adults in the building. I definitely want to, so I don’t know why I didn’t think to start with the staffroom.

Along with coming out of my shell at work, I also made a move yesterday to join another community of teachers… on Twitter! My friend, Erin, first introduced me to Twitter two years ago. I mean, I knew of Twitter but I didn’t get what the big deal was. What would I possibly have to say that would take less than a thousand words to say, nevermind 140 characters? I am pretty much the most long-winded person I know, other than my dad. Erin insisted that it was a great PD tool, especially once I learned to incorporate hashtags in my Tweets. She told me about an hourlong, weekly chat that happens on Twitter among ELA teachers, called EngChat. ELA teachers/consultants go on Twitter between 7:00pm-8:00pm EST and use the hashtag #engchat to keep their tweets within one conversation thread. There is usually a host and a topic for the evening’s discussion, and then basically everyone who wants to join in, share, and inquire can! It’s a great way to reach out to others all over the world to discuss curriculum, best practices, new ideas, and to puzzle over continuing issues in education. You learn quickly that you are not alone. You also find some really amazing educators to add to your “Following” list.

Last night, the EngChat was hosted by Kelly Gallagher (@KellyGToGo) an ELA teacher from the US, whose PD sessions I absolutely love attending. In the last ten months, I’ve attended three, two of which were on my own dime in August! He has some fantastic strategies for literacy and for getting students reading more and writing more… and thinking more! I didn’t even really mean to join this EngChat at first; I was just on Twitter when a few of the teachers I follow mentioned that Kelly Gallagher would be hosting the evening’s EngChat, so I thought, “What the hey, I’ll just click on the hashtag and lurk like I sometimes do.” But then I reminded myself that staying inside my little bubble is keeping me from forming important networks, both on and offline. So I jumped in, tweeting my excitement about Kelly Gallagher’s participation.

What followed was a firestorm of typing, scrolling, reading, and willing myself not to pee my pants (my bladder was very full) as I leapt into conversations, started topics of my own, and offered some of my own insights to others. It was great! And I mean, it’s not like it was such a big deal. So I had a conversation on Twitter. But I feel like it was an important experience to have because while I’m not really focusing on ELA as much this year, it is still what I want, and I think that EngChat is a great way for me to get to pick others’ brains about the subject I love while staying on top of trends, strategies, and problems that I might otherwise let myself ignore or forget about as I immerse myself in learning about teaching Social Studies and Science this year. The retweets/favorites, and replies that I got in response to my ideas also reminded me that although I am still a relatively new teacher with a lot to learn, I still also have a lot to offer to the teaching community. I just have to be brave enough to venture outside of my shell, be available, and make friends.

And on that note, it’s time for lunch, and I’m off to the staffroom.

Do any of you get “stuck” in your classroom all the time, too? Do you participate in Twitter conversations like #engchat, #sschat, #ecosys, #edchat, #kinderchat, etc.? How has it changed your view(s) of PD?

Check out the archive of last night’s #engchat as well as older #engchats!

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Filed under Reflection

Why am I here?

This question could take on literal and metaphorical implications, so I’ll address them both.

Literally, why am I here? I originally started blogging at Blogspot but my blog was sort of a mess. I intended it as a dual-focus blog, dealing with aspects of my professional and personal life, and it kind of didn’t make sense. I found myself wanting to begin a post but then feeling overwhelmed with the sheer volume of things swimming about in my brain that I wanted to pour out in writing. So I’d procrastinate and procrastinate, and eventually do what most procrastinators do with things they habitually put off — I just gave up on it. In the meantime, I decided that I wanted to write about other things, too. So I started up my personal blog, Barefoot Panda, here at WordPress. Turned out that I really enjoyed writing about my life, my people, yoga, food, travelling, and dancing, so a few dozen posts later, I found a pretty decent level of comfort with the site. So in a nutshell, I’m here, blogging at WordPress, because it’s easier to keep my two blogs on the same platform.

Figuratively speaking, why I’m here is a bit trickier. As I mentioned, I basically gave up on my teaching blog last Spring. I wanted to keep doing it, but always found reasons not to do it. I guess it’s how people deal with stuff they don’t really want to deal with. I came back in the late Spring to post about a pretty lame situation: I’d been displaced in the staffing shuffle. I was coming to expect it, simply because there was a lot of movement among English Language Arts teachers this past year and I knew that my job was pretty cushy. As a teacher without her continuous contract, my job is always in danger. So I packed up all my things and, with a stroke of luck, found myself in a full time position at a junior high for the new school year.

Moving to junior high was, for lack of a better word, a complete culture shock. I knew, basically, what to expect from the kids. I didn’t know what to expect now that I was no longer an English teacher, but rather a Social Studies teacher for the most part. I have no experience with Social Studies. I’m an English person at heart and the ELA classroom is what makes my heart go pitter-pat (Does anyone’s healthy heart actually go pitter-pat?). And I’ll admit, I do have a class of ELA 7, but along with that and the four Social Studies classes I teach, I also have Science 7 and Health 7. This isn’t the worst “bowl of M&Ms” schedule I’ve ever seen or had, but it’s given me pause.

Within the first two weeks, I felt paralyzed. It was like an out-of-body experience as I watched my hands passing out worksheets, I heard my voice delivering history lectures and reminding students to “write this down,” and I felt my face frown disapprovingly a half dozen times per day. None of these things were part of what I believed is my teaching approach. And yet, whenever I’d try something even a little bit freeform or open-ended, my grade sevens would invariably implode. They can’t handle it. It’s almost like worksheets are how they function because they need strict parameters in place to be productive. Some of my kids hand in their work on lined paper that is backwards and upside down. Some of my kids can’t speak English. At all. Some of my kids don’t know that sentences begin with capital letters. So I kind of found myself going back to square one.

I made worksheets. I made the heck out of those worksheets. They’re beautiful. And I feel ashamed for making them. I’m not saying that worksheets are without merit, but I certainly don’t think they do anything worthwhile for anyone except give kids something to work on while their teacher sits around. That’s not what I want, nor is it what I like. But I felt stuck. Everyone else is doing it in my school. The kids respond well to it. I couldn’t think of anything else.

Why couldn’t I think of anything else?

At the high school from whence I came (“From whence I came?” Ha. That’s such a stupid phrase, but it is also deliciously nerdy), I taught English. Just English. It was basically my dream job, save for all the marking… even then, I guess you could say the marking was a nightmare. I spent two years really focusing on providing opportunities for my students to branch out and choose their own paths of interest. I tried to give them choice in everything they did, I tried to emphasize collaboration, I introduced new ways of doing or thinking about things. I wanted their education to be dynamic, so I tried to be dynamic. And for the last month that I’ve been doing junior high, somehow I lost track of that. It’s not like it disappeared from my teaching philosophy. It’s just that suddenly, I was a Social teacher and I didn’t know what to do with the skills I’d cultivated in the English classroom. You’d think it would be easy to make the switch, but it really wasn’t.

I routinely felt anxiety over my work. I fretted that I wasn’t a good teacher. I have one class that drives me insane some days and I found myself yelling at them one day, and actively thinking, “My God, is that my voice? When did I ever become a yeller? What have I become?” I’d go through presentation slides and patiently wait for my young charges to scrawl the points down in their notes. And yeah, I consider myself to be a pretty skilled and engaging lecturer, but who wants to lecture all the time?! It’s like saying you’re good at making potato salad. Sure, maybe your potato salad is the best potato salad ever. But at its best, it’s still just a nice side dish. Sometimes it’s the perfect thing to have. But it’s not ever the main course, and no one wants to eat potato salad every meal, every day. Lecturing, for me, is like potato salad. In my classroom, student learning is the main course. Lecturing is just something that gets plopped in there sometimes to make the facilitation of learning a little better rounded/balanced/structured. But really, if I had my way, the main course should be primarily student-driven. I don’t want my voice to be the main component of any lesson. I want to hear my students talk. I want to hear their questions, their answers, their comments, their opinions, and their stories.

And yet, there I was, talking up a storm for forty-seven-minute blocks.

You can see how the problems began for me and why I ended every single day feeling drained and unsettled. This wasn’t me. Was I doomed to squish myself into the worksheet-happy, lecture-addicted teacher mold that I rejected so early into my career? Was I going to lose my skills from teaching high school? Would this experience be a setback rather than a growing opportunity? Would I allow the limitations of my students to hinder my progress as a teacher? I just didn’t know what to think anymore. Wrestling with these questions is what brought me here. I felt that having somewhere to work through these ideas, having a place to document my thoughts and triumphs and failures would keep me humble and serve as a sort of record of my journey as I renegotiate my teaching identity.

I’ve had a few breakthroughs and have arrived at a couple important conclusions. They are conclusions that I basically already knew on an intellectual level, but I think I’m now coming to understand more fully what the deep-rooted implications are.

1) That last question I posed two paragraphs ago — “Would I allow the limitations of my students to hinder my progress as a teacher?” — was stupid. For the first few weeks, I was so busy thinking, “My kids can’t do this, my kids can’t do that. My kids are limited, so I can’t do as much for them,” that I almost tricked myself into believing that I was the disadvantaged one. The truth that I’ve known deep in my heart this whole time is that it’s not my students who are limited — it’s me. My students are exactly as they should be. They’re twelve-year-olds, for Pete’s sake. They are obnoxiously loud, they are painfully quiet, they are earnest and apathetic, combative and resigned. They span the gamut. Some are reading To Kill a Mockingbird for fun while others can hardly read books meant for seven-year-olds. It’s not their job to be strong for me. It’s my job to be strong for them. My progress as a teacher is hindered only by my own limitations, not theirs. I’ve embraced this with intense sincerity especially in the last week and am trying to remember that they aren’t the only ones with a lot of learning and growing to do this year.

2) The second thing I’ve concluded is that I only stand to lose my “high school skills” if I don’t use them, which is ultimately my choice. And on that note, “high school skills” is basically a misnomer. It has nothing to do with high school. The methods I used in high school were the same methods used in kindergarten. Give students room to explore on their own. Set up centers. Let them puzzle over things. Let them create. Talk to them about their lives. Treat lecture as a side dish rather than a main course.

I’m afraid that I do tend to be long-winded and although I will honestly try to keep my posts briefer in the future, I guess for now, you know why I’m  here.

I’m here to write about teaching, to worry about teaching, to celebrate, to mourn, to be honest, to reflect, and hopefully, to be a better teacher because of it.


Filed under Reflection