(Prepare for some truth-loosing.)
There are millions of posts to be written on reflection and self-improvement and the like; this is not one of them. Probably the opposite, in fact.
Sometimes, you just need to be secure in your strengths. Today’s #slowchated question was “How do you remain positive in a climate of edu-cynicism, edu-ugliness, & edu-enemies?” It’s sort of an easy question for me because I have been around that considerably. There have been points in my career where I didn’t just walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death; I stopped, set up camp, and sold souvenirs. That question, then, is near and dear to my heart.
I gave some pretty awesome answers to that question around lunch time, if I do say so myself. Focus on your priorities, see the humanity in your students, the future’s so bright I’ve got to wear shades, etc. At that point in the day, though, I was not on edge by any stretch of the imagination. I administered a writing test and then started a movie that goes with a book we’ve read in class (well, most of my students have read it. You’d just need to know my policy on whole class novels). Dare I say, I was relaxed.
So in a positive state of mind, those are my answers. Now that I have been more on edge, I’d like to give a much better answer.
The real answer is “Know the truth.” Teachers get accused of many things. Tonight, I’ve been told that I don’t consider my students to be human and that I blindly follow the rules put in place by my controlling, outdated administration.
And while that’s upsetting, I don’t think that I’m personally upset. I don’t take negative comments as an attack because I know these things are fallacious. I’m not questioning who I am; I know who I am. I’m upset, though, because of my deep love of Truth.
Do I see my students as human? I’ve been in the classroom for five years. My first group of 6th graders are now sophomores. They drive, they have jobs, and they have Facebook accounts. And they friend me. And after they friend me, they beg me to come teach at the high school. One told me that he’s failing physical science and that he cried when he found out.
A teenage boy just told me he cried today.
You don’t get that rapport by dehumanizing students. He then asked if I could help him understand what he didn’t get. And I said absolutely, because I love my students and want them to succeed.
Shortly after he asked me that, another former student messaged me: “Hey Mrs. Bates. What was that saying you told us to use with prophase, metaphase and all them!?”
I taught her the phases of mitosis going on three years ago, but I shared it with her again (and I’ll share it with you, because it’s a great story that I totally stole from my practicum teacher, TJ Kirk):
When I was a little girl in preschool, I laid down to take a nap. I had to go to the bathroom, but my teacher wouldn’t let me up! So later when she heard me crying, she came over to ask what was wrong. I said, ‘I P Mat, C?’
I P MAT C
Interphase, prophase, metaphase, anaphase, telophase & cytokinesis
She replied, “Thank you! In biology we are learning about them and I couldn’t remember what you told us to remember them by.”
She remembered that I had a mnemonic device for that standard? From THREE years ago? Cool!
So, the truth is that my students are totally human. They are also my students, forever and always. When these two have their own families, they’ll still be my students. Maybe I’ll field questions about their children’s schoolwork one day.
The second implication – that I blindly follow the rules put in place by my controlling, outdated administration – is more personal. It’s also laughable. Without going into details, my personnel file has the word “insubordination” in it. There is a contract non-renewal request. “Follow” is barely in my vocabulary.
So my “controlling” administration then lets me pilot standards-based grading, organize the state’s first edcamp, and run my school’s Twitter account. Wait, what?
I work in a very forward-thinking district. In the past four years, there have been so many positive changes. However, great leadership does not change everything all at once, and they implement changes strategically. If someone outside my district doesn’t like my district’s policies or implementation plans, I have some phenomenal news: you don’t work there. Rest assured, if I did not see either the benefit of the policy or the legal ramifications of the rule, I would not follow or enforce it. Working on my administration degree, however, has taught me to appreciate the multifaceted issues that district’s face. Crafting policy is not easy.
So, how do you stay positive? By knowing the truth. I know who I am as an educator, and my students remind me daily. I know who I am as an employee; if I could not do my job, I’d be professional and leave instead of staying and causing chaos.
I’m positive because I know the truth, and that is my comfort amid edu-negativity.