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?