Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference. – Robert Frost
Early in my teaching career I was very traditional. This was how I experienced education growing up, what I was taught throughout my teacher preparation program in college, and what I observed educators practicing in their classrooms. My evaluations went well, with very little advice given to me as to how to improve my teaching. Students were to show up to my classroom, receive the information I covered, and learn. The process was sterile and the same almost every day. This was (and still is in many places) the status quo of teaching. It worked for me as it does for many teachers…or does it?
Were my students doing more than playing the game of school? No. Was I growing as a professional? No. Eventually I saw this, but because of what I had been taught, the environment and culture of school systems, and the praise of colleagues and administrators I didn’t find reason to change for some time. I was stuck in the box of traditional teaching. The status quo had sucked me in and the grip was tight.
All it takes is one moment in time, one person, one bit of research, or one student to show the way out of this box. I was lucky that a few of these came together at the same moment to point me in a different direction. I was able to make significant change once I admitted to myself that there was a better way. This idea that something works ‘so well’ makes it difficult for many educators to reach outside the status quo and search for something better. When we are pushed and reinforced to head one direction, it takes a lot of bravery to follow another path.
The status quo in teaching would have us make everyday the same. Homework and assignments would be blanket assigned without regard to student readiness levels. Tests would be the primary, if not only, sources of summative assessment. Classes would consistently be driven by textbooks, lecture, direct instruction, and quiet seat work. The file folder would come out each year with the previous lesson plans and activities to be used over and over again.
I realized the status quo didn’t work for me or my students, and I am thankful. I faced challenges with breaking the mold of teaching, but it was worth it every time. There have been bumps and bruises, paths that deviated from my colleagues, and so many questions along the way. All the while, my students benefited and continue to benefit with the changes. They are recognized as individuals and I am seen as a person, not an unapproachable character with a robotic presence…and it makes all the difference.
What was the moment in time that changed you as an educator? How did you break the mold of the status quo? Please leave your story in the comments.