This little reflection from 2017 has been on my mind a lot lately. Especially as we move into so many unknowns when it comes to what not only the fall, but our classrooms, communities and schools post pandemic will look like. So much fear. So many worries. So many unknowns.
I met a new teacher this week who will be starting her career in September. She has been hired to take on a classroom of her own. It took every ounce of my being to smile and cheer and lean into her joy instead of asking her how scared she must be of the unknowns, how she feels about her first year being during a pandemic, or how sad she must be that there is a possibility that instead of setting up her first classroom that she might be meeting her new learners online…
I thought of this blog. These words. This story. And I focused on the awesome. Enjoy.
Written 7/17/2017 (with a few tweaks added and deleted on 17/05/2020)
What an incredible blessing it is to be a teacher.
A. Freaking. Blessing. (With a big ‘ol capital B!)
My summers off are spent with my everythings. My 3 kids and my amazing husband. I cherish this time that I get to spend with them. I get to be a full time mom and I love it. I also treasure the fact that my teacher brain is still engaged and I get to spend the time reflecting on my practice, reading books by passionate educators and recharging my batteries. Through all of our summer experiences, my teacher side never quite shuts off…
As I spent time with my kiddos at the pool today, a lovely new mama with a 4 month old baby girl was floating near us. My littlest is drawn to babies (like obsessively drawn to babies…) and made a beeline for little Emerson (she asked her name as soon as she got her little hands on her…)
Emerson’s mama and I made small talk. We asked a few questions and kind of talked through the kids like moms tend to do. She looked so happy to be there with Emerson and for the opportunity to tell us all about her little girl. And in that moment, there was so much I wanted to tell her.
I wanted to offer support and advice. I wanted to tell her how incredibly jealous I was of all of the one on one time her and her babe get right now. I wanted to tell her about how I yearned to go back to those days. I wanted to relive my days as a mama of one. I wanted to tell how much fun she has in store as her baby girl grows…
But, I also wanted to start with the “well, just wait until …” stories. I wanted to warn her about the sleepless nights and the worry she was sure to have. I wanted to tell her about how every year that goes by I seem to know less about mothering instead of more. I wanted to cry out that I often feel lost and worried that I am ruining my babies. I wanted to make it all about my fears, my worries and the things that drive me crazy as a parent…
But I didn’t. I made a very conscious effort to stop myself from spouting off the negatives. I made sure to get her eyes and to tell her what a great Mom I’m sure she is, how blessed little Emerson is to have her and how much I love being a mom too.
This five minute interaction in the pool with a fellow mama got me thinking about teaching and the life that we lead as teachers.
One of my favourites, Jimmy Casas, says that teachers have a tendency to be “awfulizers”. Think about it. As hard as it is for me to admit and as much as I want to fight the label, as a group, we kind of are. Not all the time. Not every single one of us. Not every day. But awfulizing definitely comes into play in our profession. And on the harder days, the ones where we feel alone or frustrated, awfulizing can happen without a thought. Kind of like a really bad habit.
And one of the worse things we can do as “awfulizers” is to bring down new teachers. Ugh. Just the thought of it makes me shudder.
I could have “warned” that new mom in the pool today. I could have rolled my eyes and went on about the ugly side of parenting. I could have gone into “veteran” mom mode and felt as though it was my responsibility to enlighten her about all the terrible things that could happen as a parent. I could have made the decision right then and there to take the fact that her and Emerson were blessed to have each other out of the equation and to awfulize her role as a mom. But I knew that wasn’t my job.
My job was to tell her that she was doing a great job and to encourage her to keep doing her best. My job was to soften my eyes and my tone and to listen to her as she gushed about her baby and her mom life. My job was to hold space for her and her baby. My job was to learn from HER and feed off of her new mom energy and connection with her babe.
And just like that time spent in the pool today, this is how our newest teachers need to be treated.
I get that there is a need to be realistic and to be honest about how tough our days can be. I am not one to sugar coat. But, I am one who would much rather focus on the positives, come up with solutions and energize people with positivity.
But here is what I have no time for…
“Well, just wait until YOU have been teaching as long as I have. Wait until you have seen what I have seen and heard what I have seen and heard and then you won’t have this kind of energy/passion/dedication/love of children/connection/enthusiasm blah, blah, blah…”
Seriously? There has got to be a better way…
Now, let’s not get all upset over generalizations here. I KNOW that not EVERY teacher does this. I know that teachers that do this are ones who may be hurting and who may have fallen out of love with a profession I am sure that they started out loving. I know that these comments are made when we feel uncomfortable with our own practices, unsure of the changes in education and when teachers are angry at their lack of resources, time or money. I know that we all have bad days where awfulizing can happen without even thinking about it. I get all of that. But as a group, we need to come together to “make the positive so loud that the negative becomes almost impossible to hear” (Thanks for THAT juicy little nugget George Couros!)
So, what’s our plan Team?
What are we going to do to focus on the awesome? Especially for the newer teachers in our lives?
Here are some ideas I’ve come up with…
I’m going back to basics. Back to the start of this blog, back to why I started teaching, back to the reason I do what I do… teaching is a Blessing (there’s that big ‘ol capital B again!)
Spending our days with somebody’s everything?
Having the ability to brighten someone’s day with a smile, a high five and some kind words?
Being surrounded by people who “get it”? Who are constantly learning and evolving and trying to do better now that they know better?
I could go on but the point is that we ALL have our own list of why this profession is a blessing. And by focusing on the fact that it is a blessing? By remembering our why? Well, there is no better way to express to new teachers that we are all this together and to put all of the “awfulizing” into perspective. And if MY “awfulizing” is in check? There’s a good chance I will not be the Negative Nelly that is trying to “enlighten” these new teachers…
Another part of my plan? I am going to be vulnerable. Yep. Planned vulnerability. We know that vulnerability allows connection to occur. We also know that it breeds innovation, creativity and change. And THAT’s the kind of teacher I want to be.
How will I practice vulnerability? By recognizing the fact that I do not know it all. By saying “I don’t know” more and more. By leaning on those around me who challenge me to know better and do better. By not being scared to confront the big issues such as trauma and my own beliefs. By getting into tough conversations and seeking to gain more knowledge instead of hiding from them. By recognizing the fact that I have SO much more learn and there are always ways that I can improve for myself and for ALL kids.
And you can be darn sure that just like in the pool with that mama today, I will be working on connecting with other teachers, getting their eyes and telling them how great they are, how blessed their students are to have them and how much I love being a teacher too.
Minimizing the awful and focusing on the awesome blessing that teaching is will create a greater sense of gratitude for the role I play for our learners each and every day. And with that immense sense of gratitude, I can begin to connect with others as collaborators, as creators and as innovators instead of bonding through awfulizing.
I am choosing to focus on the awesome. Despite the unknowns. Despite the big emotions. Despite all those telling me I shouldn’t. The gratitude I have for being an educator (even in the midst of a freaking pandemic) is overwhelming. But it is also a wonderful way to bring me back to my why whether in the pool or in the classroom…