Be yourself, everyone else is already taken – Oscar Wilde
I love this quote. For me it’s come to epitomize a significant journey that I’ve been on. The past year and a half have been the most difficult of my teaching career. In many ways I’ve felt like I’ve lost who I am. I’ve come to realize that not every path or opportunity is the right one to take. That just because I can do something, doesn’t mean I should. It won’t necessarily make me feel happy or fulfilled.
As Ken Robinson states, your element is where your talent meets your passion. And I haven’t been in my element for a long time. Why? Part of it, I think, is because I left my classroom. During this time, I’ve learned a lot of things I don’t like to do. To be honest, I prefer to learn in the affirmative, rather than the way I have been, but I know that I’ve grown a lot.
I left my classroom to become a learning consultant for my division, and while I don’t regret this decision, it was a difficult year. I took this position because I wanted to help schools & teachers move forward in inquiry & using technology in their classrooms. It wasn’t what I thought it was going to be, and to be honest, I don’t think I had a really clear picture in my head of what it would be. For many reasons that I won’t get into, I didn’t enjoy this job. I didn’t feel fulfilled or strengthened by it. The largest reason is I missed kids. I missed being in the midst of the excitement and energy of the classroom everyday, and I missed pushing the envelope of what is possible in a student-driven learning environment.
Five months ago, I accepted a temporary Vice Principal position with my division, and it has been a real struggle. And at this point, I can’t specifically state why. It could be because I teach a subject I’m not passionate about. It could be all of the managerial aspects, such as paperwork & discipline. It could be because I moved from high school, where I’ve spent my entire teaching career, to elementary. But it’s taken a toll on who I am. Almost everyday I think about quitting teaching. I don’t blog. I rarely tweet.
It’s driven me to ask, “What do I really want to do with my life?” “What have I done in my life that I’ve loved?” “What does success look like?” ”What is enough?” These are the questions I’ve been pursuing for the past couple of months. And I still lack many of the answers.
Part of the problem has also been caused by the PhD direction I chose. Originally, when I applied to the program, I outlined my dissertation interest as looking at mobile technology to promote education & literacy in developing countries, especially in areas that are remote and currently lack educational structures. Social justice has been one of my passions for a long time. But I walked away from it because I’m white & middle class & live in North America. What in the world do I know about education in a developing country? So instead, I chose to pursue neuroplasticity, an area that is an interest, but it’s not something I’m deeply passionate about.
I realized several months ago that I need to pursue what really matters to me. I have no grand illusions that my dissertation will change the developing world, but it will be authentic to who I am. In all honesty, I wonder if the developing world doesn’t have something to teach me. For all of the technology, expertise & education we have here, we still largely lack the ability to revolutionize education for our kids and offer them an education that matters. If anyone’s stuck, it’s us.
This past year feels like it’s been characterized by a lot more failure than success. And after watching this video again, I feel okay about that.
Recently, I was reading a book by Marcus Buckingham titled Find your Strongest Life. According to Buckingham, he’s identified 9 life roles that people tend to live. One of them is a teacher, but the interesting thing for me is that’s not one of my two dominant roles. Mine are motivator & pioneer. And it’s the pioneer role that seems significant. Buckingham states you know you are a Pioneer if:
- You are quickly bored
- You are always thinking of new ideas
- You are excitable and curious
- You don’t read instructions
- You are an early adopter of new technology
Your strongest moments are when:
- You’re starting something new
- Your plans change suddenly and you have to improvise
- You push yourself beyond your limits
- You’re talking about what’s next
- You’re not quite sure what’s about to happen
This was one of those rare epiphany moments. When I read this, it clarified a lot of things for me, and helped to begin to explain why this past year and a half have been so difficult. It also explains why I’m an inquiry teacher. I thrive on the unknown. Chaos is energizing to me. It’s also helped me realize when working with other teachers, that they may not have the same affinity for charging into the unknown as I do.
So now what? In the fall I’ll be returning to the classroom. Not the same school I was in. But I’ll have high school English & Social Studies. I think tech or media studies. And I’m excited about the possibility of teaching a photography course.
I know that I used to love teaching. I would wake up in the morning excited to see what the day had in store. Frequently I would think, “I can’t believe I get paid to do this job.” At this moment, that all seems like a distant memory.
So I’ve given myself one year. If I don’t rediscover a passion & love for teaching, then I need to leave. Kids need teachers who love being there & love them. Who are passionate about learning & can model what it’s like to be a joyful, intentional, thoughtful adult.
I still have a desire to help create a school that is inquiry-based, but I’m not sure it will be as an administrator. I’m not sure there’s enough in that job that I love. However, I think there are other positions that can be powerfully influential. In all of my soul searching, I’ve come to think that working as a teacher-librarian in a school that has a learning commons might be a good fit, at some point. However, pursuing this idea will require me to leave my current division, since we have neither. I think to continue to grow, I will always need change, so over the next couple of years, I will begin to pursue what this might look like & where this will take me.
Do what you love. Be you. The world will be better for it.