You must be the change you wish to see in the world. – Mahatma Gandhi
When I started teaching, I was taught that you do a bell ringer, check in homework, take attendance, go over the homework, teach the lesson via a lecture, do a whole class guided practice, and then assign homework for the next day. Repeat 170ish times (to account for exams and such) and that equalled successful teaching. This way all students stayed in their seats (in nice clean rows of course), kept quiet, stayed at the exact right point in the curriculum (which was basically prescribed per day), etc. The textbook dictated the curriculum, so that we could all teach the exact same vocabulary and grammatical constructions and turn out little Spanish language robots.
Robots for so many reasons. I didn’t know who these kids were. I never fully found out, either. I knew little about their previous experiences. I didn’t know much about what they were involved with at school or outside of those walls. I didn’t know them as learners. And quite frankly, I was never taught or shown that this was important information whatsoever. It was safe…much safer than getting to know those 150 kids who graced my presence. Much safer than discovering the hardships that so many of them bring to school each day. Much safer than knowing how my kids were truly gifted and when they needed more from me as their instructor. Robots because the curriculum was predetermined and I never challenged it. Everything was set, easy (although beginning teaching is never really easy), and safe.
I did this and received good, even great evaluations of my teaching. Things were going swimmingly! Or so I thought…
About 5 years ago, my teaching world was turned upside down. I had been feeling restless lately, why? I was a tenured teacher, doing what I was supposed to be doing, following all the preset plans and assessments, and getting good results on them. I had been evaluated time and time again with the same stellar results. What could be wrong?
I felt like there was a huge hole in my teaching. There were so many reasons that I chose teaching as my profession, but what were they again? Oh yeah, I wanted kids to become lifelong learners. I wanted kids to go out and be productive citizens. I wanted the kids that moved on to post secondary education to be prepared and succeed in their endeavors. Was I doing any of this anymore? Was presenting the prescribed teacher centered lessons on the right day and keeping my kids in strict seating assignments teaching them anything about the real world or encouraging sustained lifelong learning? Nope. I was missing it in a big way. It was my midlife teaching crisis, time for a change.
Luckily for me, I had an administrator in my district that was always looking for what we could be doing better, a true instructional leader. He gave me the opportunity of my educational lifetime, even if I didn’t recognize it at the moment.
I am not going to say that the workshop I attended was so mind blowing or wonderful, it was good. What was life changing was the fact that it challenged the way I was doing things, the way that had been previously celebrated and promoted. It made me think. It was a spark in my teaching world.
I was challenged to get to know my students on all levels. To plan my lessons for them instead of the curriculum pacing guides and quarterly assessments. To RESPECT them. That was my biggest revelation. Over the first few years of my teaching career I had unknowingly disrespected my students. I had disrespected their individuality, their interests, their backgrounds, and most importantly their ability to contribute to my classroom.
From that point on, I vowed to make changes in my teaching. I knew it would be difficult, chaotic, and that I would make many mistakes along the way. However, I also knew that my students deserved better. Here began my adventures into differentiated instruction, formative and summative assessments, a student centered classroom, standards based learning and grading, and technology integration. It has been a crazy ride so far, but if I could go back I wouldn’t change a thing…well, I wouldn’t change much.
It has been (thus far) a journey of extreme highs and lows, of success and failure, of support and collaboration along with distrust and solitude. I have taken this journey with my students, their parents, my administration, my colleagues, and even my family at home. But to this day it has been worth it, and I will continue to look for new, better ways to reach my students. I will be the lead learner in my classroom, constantly growing with my students.