On Being a Teacher

The best part about being a teacher is that we don’t spring into being from Zeus’ head, complete, perfect, Athena-wise. We evolve, we change, we shift, we become. Not that I don’t adore Athena. It’s just that we are lucky to spend our teaching years stretching and growing instead of atrophying. We are not just the product of our own student experiences, our teacher prep programs, or our current schools: we expand to hold what we hear, see, read, experience every single day.

When we become aware of this process, this evolution, we are responsible for passing it on to our students. We must nurture the curious within ourselves and within their souls. Oddly, once we fully awake, we find that our vocabulary is hardly sufficient to describe our thoughts.

And yet, we rarely sit and ponder, groping for that perfect word. Nope. We select an honest one, a grounded one, and dance onward, helping our students to

  • explore
  • create
  • experience
  • re-see
  • re-purpose

the object, the lives, the moments around them.

As we help our students to look closely at life, things, ideas, we must give them opportunities to write. And write a lot. We help them to root their writing in physical detail. In finding the perfect concrete hummingbird of an image that illustrates the tiniest, most elusive, sometimes too fleeting thought. This provides our students with the tools and strategy to explore Truth

  • in human emotions
  • in natural elements
  • in discrepancies
  • across boundaries
  • in our homes
  • in our relationships
  • in our deepest, darkest thoughts

When we teach them to explore, to write, to contemplate the world around them, we teach them to be lenient — with themselves and with others. When we teach them to explore truth without judgment, to play with a sense of wonder without of a sense of rule-making or rule-breaking, we teach them to embrace life.

Note: thanks to Bill Woolum and his thoughts regarding leniency and the writing life.

For Innovation, Please Press 1

Innovation seems to be the word to write about these days. For my part, I roll it around a little, try it on for size, nibble it a little, like it’s a gold coin and I’ll somehow be able to see my teeth imprint. For its part, it sizzles. I read about it a lot, though, hear people throw it around like it’s the equivalent of genius, maybe tack on the word “technology” because certainly that means progress and creativity and inventiveness. But what, precisely, is innovation?

I guess we know what it’s not: It is not standing still. Sitting still. Doing the same thing the same way we’ve always done it. And it certainly doesn’t mean being plugged into the grid. The simple presence of technology does not equate innovation. And the presence of technology does not mean that learning is taking place. (That’s like saying I’m a gourmet chef simply because my kitchen possesses a whisk — which I am not and it does not). We also know that Cuban’s research showed us that “most teachers had adapted an innovation to fit their customary practices, not to revolutionize them” (Cuban, 2001)

So the adaptation of an innovation does not equal revolution within the classroom, just as the presence of technology does not equal learning. It all comes down, then, to application. This is where the magic of teaching comes in — teachers who can innovate, connect, and use technology in ways that prompt student thought, creativity, and creation are the true stars of innovation.

Take a look-see at this video from @stumpteacher, who challenges us to truly innovate:

What’s your take on innovation? How do you see it playing out in the classroom? Does it necessarily involve technology?

Bring on the Technological Revolution

Innovation and choice can either free or paralyze the educator.

When teachers adopt technological innovation, these changes typically maintain rather than alter existing classroom practices. Larry Cuban, Oversold and Underused, 2001

I know plenty of teachers, locally and nationally, who embrace technological innovation, student learning, and collaborative teaching. This is not a post about them.

I also know some teachers who are fully satisfied with who they are as teachers and the fact that they’ve been teaching the same lesson for 22 years. This is not a post about them.

This is a post for all of the stakeholders in education — teacher, parent, admin, educational assistant, university professor, janitorial staff, office staff, cafeteria crew — who want what is best for our students, who are looking for ways to innovate, who know that there must be something better out there, who want critical thinkers and questioners and joyful learners.

There are no simple answers. But there are a few simple things we could do.

1. Trickle-down Influence: University courses could model innovative pedagogy and integrate the new technologies into reading, writing, and learning. Cuban (2001) points out that (although there is faculty interest in technology) there is limited use of effective technology in the university classroom, and that because tenure is not linked to effective classroom practices, there is little likelihood of change in the way information is disseminated. Change #1: Universities should be at the forefront of T-Pack integration within courses.

2. Encourage Teacher Networks: social networks for teachers should not only be allowed but encouraged within the education world. Sadly, many schools block most forms of communication with the outside world, social networking sites, especially. Social networks for teachers allow cross-pollination of ideas, content, pedagogical and technological; they promote curiosity and risk-taking in the most positive forms; they provide a network of fellow teachers for support, encouragement, and trouble-shooting. Change #2: Unblock social networking sites for teachers and encourage their involvement in their profession.

3. Reward Teacher Innovation: This is not the same as merit pay, so please don’t crucify me, yet. The more a teacher steps outside of the worksheet box, the more support and encouragement and technology she should receive. And yet, the reality so often seems the opposite. Teachers who are using technology and crafting innovating learning experiences should be rewarded with greater access to tech toys, more opportunities to network with like-minded teachers, and ways to collaborate with others (within district, state, nation, or globe) who are motivated to connect students, learning, and the world.¬† Change #3: Promote innovative teaching by rewarding those teachers who are willing to take the risks.

Change doesn’t happen over night. But with a little prompting, a little guiding, and a little support, we could move more of our nation’s classrooms in the right direction.

Hybrid Jitters

I’m a little nervous. A tinge of anxiety colors the air I breath. I catch¬†myself thinking thoughts that are more muddied, more sensory, more cloudy than actual, worded thoughts. For the first time, I’m wondering what the heck I’m doing.

My questions are directed at myself (instead of the program) because I tend to be self-aware. I know who I am, my strengths, my weaknesses. I know my limitations. I know my assets.

And I’d like to think I’m honest with myself.

My Assets: I tend to be aware of my surroundings. I blend. I adapt. I evolve to fit the circumstances, the needs, the requirements at hand. I enjoy learning new things and meeting new people, and thus it feels intuitive to become a part of a new system, co-opt new ways of doing things as my own, and embody the change I encounter.

My Worries: It suddenly occurred to me tonight that I am still immersed in a 9th grade classroom environment. It’s difficult to adapt, blend, become the quintessential doc candidate when you’re surrounded by delightful, hormonal, questioning, seeking teenagers. There is no “other” in my life, no place I can retreat to in order to be surrounded by research-minded, focused professionals, no community of like-minded peers.

Yes, I realize that this is a hybrid program — and that I can seek like-minded peers online. After all, my cohort are all just an email or tweet or skype call away. But suddenly I feel not just alone, but somehow behind — way behind — in some colossal race that I didn’t even realize that I was running.

Challenge to Self: choose to be positive, regardless. Seek knowledge, follow the path you’ve set for yourself, do what you know to be right. All else will settle in. And if you really screw up, have faith that someone will let you know, compassion and kindness in their hearts.