Reflection posted here.
(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told that I don’t consider my students to be human and that I blindly follow the rules put in place by my controlling, outdated administration.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.
(Copyright © 2002 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.)
Today I worked on assessment-building with my good friend and colleague Melissa Chambers. We construct our assessments in Google Drive so we can edit concurrently, which works out beautifully if your document looks the same to both editors.
Ours did not.
Because we’re both nice people and hard workers who trust each other, one of us formatted spacing while the other worked on numbering questions and lettering answer choices. When we were finished, we went through the document together.
That’s when things got interesting.
We edited over each other about four times unknowingly before we got to the seventh page, Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud.” I had reformatted the piece to fit on one page multiple times, but for some reason it was still not right. I finally said aloud, “I think we should put the entire poem on one page.”
She looked at me rather confused. “It is on one page.”
Large inexplicable spaces still exist in my copy, and we’ve been finished with the test since noon.
Have you had one of those “I’m losing my mind” moments lately?
The first confession is that I’m not a former procrastinator; I’m actually avoiding work right now. Aaron Burr would be so proud.
One of my favorite ways to procrastinate is to read articles about why I shouldn’t and studies on how to overcome it. I also clean, which is my husband’s favorite way for me to postpone projects. I’m so predictable, in fact, that after eight years of marriage he no longer states, “I really appreciate your help;” instead, he asks, “So, what do you have due tomorrow?”
The answer to that question currently is nothing, but in the next week to two months, I have a graduate portfolio to create, a parent meeting to plan, an edcamp to advertise, and the Relay for Life team that I co-chair has nothing planned for this year. I could be planning lessons for February and March; instead I’m telling you how I’m going to put it off until February and March.
Good news, everyone! That’s actually a coping strategy.
In my pursuit of semi-justifiable ways to kill time, I stumbled across David McRaney’s blog You Are Not So Smart: A Celebration of Self-Delusion (think “Brain Games” but more metacognitive) and his post on Procrastination. As it turns out, acknowledging that you dawdle is a way to deal with it:
Interestingly, … although almost everyone has problems with procrastination, those who recognize and admit their weakness are in a better position to utilize available tools for precommitment and by doing so, help themselves overcome it.
– Dan Ariely, from his book Predictably Irrational
If you fail to believe you will procrastinate or become idealistic about how awesome you are at working hard and managing your time you never develop a strategy for outmaneuvering your own weakness.
By admitting that I’m going to complete a task moments before it’s due, I’m actually setting myself up to complete the task moments before it’s due.
This is great news for my procrastinators’ support group, namely my friends and family who not only drag their feet when doing work but are highly successful at it. I’m talking college students with 4.0 GPAs, successful businessmen, internationally renowned artists, great teachers and preachers… all of whom complete things at the last possible second.
Instead of viewing our procrastinating proclivities as simply a weakness we’ll never overcome, we can view our metacognition as a strength that compensates for our tendencies.
Are you as comforted by this knowledge as I am, or am I still just making excuses? Let me know in the comments!
As for me, I think there are some dishes I could be putting away…
I’m going to call this my first blog post, which is a lie. Below is my actual first blog post in its entirety:
Sharing my innermost thoughts with complete strangers sounds scary.
What if they judge me?
What if I’m wrong?
What if I make a mistake? Everyone will know. Everyone will see it.
Aren’t these the feelings, though, that propel us to greatness? These insecurities are what prompt us to reflect on our work and make positive changes.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never experienced that doubt around a notebook, journal, or piece of paper that only my English teacher was going to read… if she read it at all, that is.
But I also probably didn’t try my hardest. Again, only my English teacher was going to read it.
There is safety and comfort in notebook paper, but isn’t there more to gain from taking a digital risk? Won’t a wider audience force me to be a better writer?
Let’s find out.
I wrote that for my seventh graders in August. My aim was to get them excited about blogging, not knowing that my students didn’t realize they were writing and would equate blogging with unicorns, rainbows, cupcakes, and happiness. I know that now. I also know that I’m not even doing what I’ve asked my students to do. You have to do that to be a successful teacher; that’s one lesson I’ve learned in my four-and-a-half years of teaching,
I’ve learned a myriad of lessons, in fact, and Mr. David Theriault‘s post “What’s Greater Than Great? The Surprising Connection Between EdcampHome and the 80s Lakers” has inspired me to share these lessons.
And by “inspired” I mean “kicked me in the pants.”
And by “lessons” I mean “horrific failures that taught me something valuable.”
Seeing all of the reflections about EdcampHome on Google+ also stirred me. I make my students reflect on their work all the time. Sometimes they share it. We compare struggles and successes, not competitively but collaboratively. And I won’t even do the same with my PLN?!? Come on, people who weren’t even able to attend EdcampHome posted thoughtful reflections, like John Wick‘s “Rebels in the Classroom.” Why would I not share my thoughts?
The answer is selfishness, but I didn’t realize that until Mr. Theriault’s post. I connect one-on-one with several to muddle through my first year of Common Core ELA standards, my first year of standards-based grading in ELA, and my first year of combined reading and grammar classes. Oh, and navigate a new school, because I transferred at the end of last year. Crystal Pinson teaches ELA at my school, and we reflect together on nearly a daily basis. Dr. Felicia Bates – aside from being my mother-in-law and therefore on-call 24/7 – is a literacy guru and Common Core Coach for Tennessee. And I connected with Chris Crouch, an instructional coach in Kentucky, because I needed someone who knew how to teach English and could tolerate my overabundance of inexperience, and, therefore, questions. I love asking questions.
Truthfully, I receive good feedback from amazing people every day. But Mr. Theriault explains that this isn’t enough in a PLN. When I share what I learn, others can learn with me or from me. That’s what collaboration is, and I’m not really giving back as much as I’m getting from my PLN. I’m being selfish.
I don’t want to be selfish anymore. I get by with a little help from my friends; it’s time I started giving back to my friends.
The question is what lessons I need to share first. Any suggestions?