Roller Coaster

I had no idea becoming a different type of teacher was so exhausting. The process of analyzing, reflecting, and changing almost everything can be absolutely depleting. Some evenings I have crawled into bed at 7:30.  But it is also exhilarating and humbling, often at the same time. Throughout this process, I’ve come to see a beautiful side to teaching, and a dark side, as well.

My CE 10 students are in pursuit of their $20,000 goal.  They have been the masterminds behind every part of the process; I’m just the detail person, helping them think through everything that needs to be done.  It has been amazing to see them come alive and rise to the challenge.

The amazing thing about this journey, thus far, is the number of other people who have gotten involved.  Two of my students have become the spokespeople for this venture.  Somehow, the paper and radio became aware of what we’re doing, and have interviewed them. We’ve had businesses send us money, and several other organizations are holding concerts with the proceeds going to Schools for Schools.  So far, we’ve raised $1,000, without really trying.

I’ve noticed over the past couple of weeks that my students, and I, have become more emotionally invested in our class.  What we’re doing matters.  Each day, when the bell signals the end of class, students are deeply disappointed that it’s over.  And while I don’t doubt that previous students have enjoyed my classes, I’ve never heard a collective groan because our class has come to an end.

However, several days into this, the whole thing was almost shut down.  Had I run this past the fundraising sub-committee?  What sub-committee? It’s new. Lovely. 

This is why I work with teenagers, they don’t have sub-committees.  It was emotionally taxing for both my students and myself.  One of my students looked me in the eye and exclaimed,  “They’ve been trying to teach us to do this for years, and we finally get excited to do something, and this is what happens?  Why would they do this?”  How do you answer that? 

While I would hope that everyone would support what my students are doing, I know that’s not the truth.  I’ve struggled with how much I mitigate this reality for my students, and how much do I expose them to it, so they learn to press on despite obstacles.  Before I started teaching like this, I had fewer questions and more answers.  And the questions that I did have, didn’t have these large grey areas.

Because of this change, I’ve found myself in a number of situations where I have two options, to give the politically correct answer, or to tell the truth.  Unfortunately, because of my personality, I usually tell the truth, but there’s always this fear that accompanies it; You wonder when this will come back to bite you.

Another thing that I’ve come to realize along this journey, is that students, by the time I teach them, have a pretty rigid idea of what a teacher “does”.  At times, they are reticent to let me out of this role.   Even though the status quo isn’t helpful to them in the long run, they still know all the “rules” as to how that classroom works and it’s a comfortable, safe place for them.

I also find that my students, although labelled, by some, as digital natives, aren’t all that technologically literate. If you take out Facebook, e-mail, IM, and texting, they use very little technology.  Most of the technology I use, they’ve never heard of.

I’ve also found that we’ve had to talk more and do less. They are apprehensive to make mistakes.  My grade 11 class is authoring our wiki, and their greatest fear is what if they screw it up? We fix it. That’s what you do when you screw things up.  Imagine what the world could look like, if our students learned this concept.

One of the biggest surprises, is that I often feel like I’m not doing the things I’m supposed to be doing in class.  Yesterday, I introduced my grade 10′s to blogging.  Only two of them had some idea of what a blog is, and even then it was hazy.  So I let them spend the class just playing with the themes and settings.  But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing.  I still feel, many times, that it should be all about content, and that this tech stuff belongs in another class.

My students are ambivalent about blogging, partially because it’s new, and partially because they’re not sure what to say.  Normally, I would tell them to give it a try, that it will be fine, and then move on to something else. 

For some of my students, very few people, including their parents, really listen to what matters to them.  Why would they believe that anyone else wants to?

I’ve learned enough in this journey to know this is where my students need me to wade into the mess with them.  To walk around in the confusion of not knowing how the technical part of blogs work, but I think more importantly, of not knowing what to say.  The truth is, they have lots to say.  They’re passionate about many important things.  So we’ll revisit this on Monday, for as long as we need to.

But most importantly, I’ve come to realize that many teachers who do not embrace change, likely don’t do so because of fear.  I think most teachers genuinely want to do what’s best for their students. But they fear failing. Fear looking foolish.  Fear not being supported.  And fear being reprimanded.

This week, I’ve spoken to colleagues, not only in my division, but others as well, about this.  The fear in some places is almost palpable.

This is a tension I feel every time I write this blog. Do I tell the truth, and, if so, what will the consequences be?

I honestly wonder, how, as a teacher, can you do your job well, when you’re afraid?  I don’t doubt that there are schools, and likely entire divisions, that are supporting and nurturing environments for great teaching.  But I think this is not most.  I hope I am wrong.

I realize that I’m in a place where I have more questions than answers.  I wonder how we got to the point where so many teachers feel they are not trusted; and more importantly, how do we change that? 

How do we liberate and empower teachers to make the changes they know are necessary in their classrooms?  How do we create schools and divisions that advocate for their teachers? How do we create an environment that allows us to do the hard things that need to be done, for the sake of our students and ourselves?

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About shelleywright

I love education & learning, which likely explains why I'm a teacher. My areas are ELA, Sr. sciences, and technology. My classroom is best described as a student-centred, tech embedded pbl/inquiry learning environment. I am currently a PhD student in the area of Curriculum and Instruction. My focus is play-based learning in high school, and it's impact on brain development.
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14 Responses to Roller Coaster

  1. This is a great reflection on the changing role of the teacher and the frustrations that occur in the process of change. I would love to share this with teachers participating in a Tech Boot Camp next week. I think they will have many of the same experiences and feelings.

    Donna
    Living Sky School Division, SK

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  3. Lisa M Lane says:

    It is very important, I think, to deal with fear. A couple of thoughts I hope will help:

    1. Ditch the lingo — my class website is a WordPress blog, but I don’t call it that. It’s just the “class website” and they help each other figure out how to post their homework thesis each week.

    2. Check the tech — some blogs are easier to use than others, so when I’m introducing something the first time, I make it optional till I see if it works. Then the braver ones try it first and give me feedback. I’ll switch technologies next term if it takes class time to train them on it.

    3. They aren’t literate in learning digitally — students know the technologies that connect them with their friends. Nowadays, if it ain’t mobile, it doesn’t exist anyway, unless it’s a place (like Facebook) where the value of a huge personal network exceeds the inconvenience.

    4. Focus on the task — why do you want them blogging? If it’s to write where the class can see it, you can make it so only the class sees it. If you want them communicating with the world, that needs to be a goal that is articulated and has at least some level of buy-in if you want to overcome their fear.

    5. Develop a rationale — Hyper-rational people deal with things by justifying what they’re doing and taking a stand. Use the student learning outcomes or course goals or whatever you have to firmly support what you’re doing. That’s your defense against those who object to the method — show how it’s fulfilling the agreed-upon goals.

    I have more, but fear I am getting preachy. Hope you can pick out something that’s useful!

  4. Fear: That is such a huge part of change. Fear on our part for abandoning what is known and accepted and easy. Fear on the students part of taking a chance, working harder and maybe making a mistake. Fear of having students, parents and colleges that do not support and openly criticize you for changing how your students learn. Fear of doing something that we may get reprimanded for. I understand, I have felt it all. I have cried. The thing that makes it worth it is when one student says or does something and you can tell they really get it. Those small moments erase all the fear and reenergize you to keep going. The key is, to recognize and relish those moments. Seek them out, share them and acknowledge them, it makes it all worth it.

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  6. It would be interesting to create a whole unit about blogs… before you even ask them to write one. It could be a digital inquiry-based unit. Make them find answers to questions like – what is a blog? Who writes blogs? Why do they write them? Who is the audience? You could steer them toward a couple of “famous” blogs – like, the technology blog at NPR – All Tech Considered, or a Football team’s blog. Because the truth is – EVERYBODY blogs now-a-days! They could find a blog in an area of personal interest and comment on a post.

    Then you could get into – What are the most popular blogging platforms? How much does it cost to set up a personal blog? If you were going to set up a personal blog, who would be your audience? What would you want to write about? What would your purpose be? (They should know this before they start – and be thinking about the Digital Dossier they are creating.)

    Then, I like Lisa’s suggestion that you make it clear that blogs can be public, private, or semi-private. And you could get their input on whether they might want to try a blog just in class with these people they trust, or if they want to go public…

    Gosh this makes me wish I had a class of high school students! I want to play!

    • Thanks for the suggestions; they’re really helpful. I’ll take a look at the NPR. I was hoping to be able to show them some “master” blogs, but need to find something where they understand the content as well.

  7. mrthejud says:

    I think part of the fear that comes out in teachers isn’t even looking foolish but in trying to have the student’s best interests at heart. When the teachers are looking at the new fangled technology that is coming out and the change in pedagogy that it requires then teachers start to clam up a little. The issue with teaching is the true effects of the decisions that we make in the classroom are not felt for years. The decisions that we make as teachers can effect so many things for so many years that just the art of teaching is scary and talking about changing the tried and true methods is even more startling. There have been many different trends that have happened in education and few of them have stuck around for very long. So when the old timers in the crowd are shown this new way of doing things they either look at it as something they would like to do in the class room or as a passing trend that will be gone by the time these students graduate.

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  9. dianna831 says:

    Being politically correct or truthful?
    Hmmm… Great reflections and questions.
    Well, the truth may not set you free in some situations, but it sure keeps your integrity intact. Good for you.

  10. Scott Ferg says:

    All the talk about digital natives is a little mis-leading. For many of them they use primarily social media and don’t fully understand the process. But, I feel they can still learn a new technology faster than the average teacher if they’re engaged. I know of many students that can use imovie effectively, but only a handful of teachers. Many of the teachers just lay out the expectations and the students learn on their own and from each other the technology they’d like to use to meet those expectations.

  11. Carol Waun says:

    Shelley VROC would like to invite you to participate in a podcast This Week in Technology and Education (T-WiTE) It is an interview style program. Our host is Kevin Cougler and two educator panellist from Ontario School boards. Please check out our website and contact me if you might be interested in participating.

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