My journey of change

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.

About the Author:


  1. Dvora Kravitz December 2, 2013 at 8:50 PM - Reply

    Thank you for being brave enough to post this piece. I had a similar experience in my teaching career. I was working as a Resource Specialist for 6 years, and I just didn’t see that I was growing or that my students were doing any better than the year before. I enrolled in the Innovative Educator’s Advanced Studies Certificate with CUE and Fresno Pacific University. I tried to find colleagues who were willing to innovate and change their teaching. I tried to convince my administration that we needed to change. I didn’t succeed. I resigned. I’m not leaving teaching. I’m still completing the certificate, and testing my learning in alternative learning settings.

  2. teachjournalism July 8, 2013 at 8:58 AM - Reply

    I came at teaching from a different direction, but oddly, arrived at the same resolution. I am alternatively certified, which means I was not taught about bell ringers, homework, guided practices or any kind of assessments. I have an English degree and a journalism minor and only wanted to advise the newspaper and yearbook in my hometown. Teaching English was part of what I had to do to get what I wanted. I was given a copy of lesson plans from a freshman English teacher and I faked it for a couple of years, feeling like a poser on the classroom side of my room and quite at home and comfortable on the lab side during production classes with the kids who loved being there. Making a connection to this, I finally began bringing projects to my “classroom” classes, but felt apologetic (again, like a poser) when they didn’t always work out as planned. I have finally realized that, like the students we teach, we get to keep trying, reinventing along the way to make it better each time. I think that sets a good example for them. I especially love it when the students themselves make suggestions to improve the projects. That’s buy-in, and it’s the best possible response.

  3. Starr Sackstein July 6, 2013 at 6:51 AM - Reply

    I think that you really nailed it here. Change is so hard and so important. I remember early in my career doing things the way I was expected to do them and feeling like I wasn’t getting through to my kids, as a matter of fact part of the reason I left my first job was because we went SURR and had to teach scripted lessons.
    The best part of being a middle career teacher is not being afraid to take those risks now, break the rules where necessary and really push our kids and ourselves to be better. Thanks for sharing your journey, I”m sure it will inspire other to share their own 🙂

    • Garnet Hillman July 6, 2013 at 7:36 AM - Reply

      Thanks Starr!
      It is so important for all of us to keep growing and changing thoughout our careers. I love this stage in my teaching because I am not afraid to take a risk and I know there will be learning throughout the process. Thanks for reading, commenting, and your support!

  4. geniusroad July 6, 2013 at 4:36 AM - Reply

    This post was quite brave for you to write. I have been in the same rut that you discovered you were in, but because everything was going smoothly, I didn’t want to rock the boat either. I never thought of it in terms of disrespecting my students, but you’re completely right. I am so inspired by this posting and you. I have been looking into using Genius Hour in my 9th grade english classroom, and have found it to be something that is scary, will look messy while in practice, but I cannot wait to try it!

    • Garnet Hillman July 6, 2013 at 7:14 AM - Reply

      I have to admit, pushing the publish button for this post was incredibly hard. I wanted to be very honest, but with that comes a certain vulnerability, so I am happy that you found some inspiration! I am also going to start genius hour this fall, and I look forward to seeing the messy, creative results. Thanks for your comments!

  5. Meg King-Abraham July 5, 2013 at 9:17 PM - Reply

    Isn’t change invigorating? I am perpetually changing my practice as you are. I really agree with your ideas about respecting students. I feel that our institution of “school” and mandated curricula can be not only disrespectful to students, but extremely harmful. It has the ability to squelch creativity and teach students a learned helplessness. It needs to change. With teachers like you, it will!

    • Garnet Hillman July 6, 2013 at 7:08 AM - Reply

      Change is so invigorating! It is our challenge to show this to our students, encourage their creativity (which for many has been hidden away for years), and maintain a culture where their opinions matter. Thanks for reading and commenting, Meg!

  6. hughtheteacher July 5, 2013 at 8:49 PM - Reply


    I enjoyed your post and connected with it on many levels. Our journeys sound similar. I always new relationships were important, but I wast a savvy enough risk taker with my practice to leverage this knowledge into experiences that connected the many diverse learners in my classroom. I found myself glued to the lessons in textbook and not looking for experiences to motivate my students to question.

    I am thankful for the many people in my pln in my school, on twitter, and on Facebook who help me daily (like you) realize the importance of modelling my own learning in front of my 2 kids, my students in my classroom, peers in my school, district, and the world.

    I like how you finished your post: “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.”

    We should all be so lucky to have our kids and students in classrooms where their teacher models this for them daily. I would be excited to have my kids in your class.

    Thank you for the post!


    • Garnet Hillman July 6, 2013 at 7:04 AM - Reply

      Thank you so much for your comments, Hugh! Sometimes it is difficult to look back and honestly reflect on where I started, but I am so glad that I did. There is always opportunity to better ourselves, our practice, and our learning.

Leave A Comment Cancel reply