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.
Shelley you are one of the most reflective people I “feel” I know, or I should say I know of…! I love your reflections. They help me think about my own experiences. So, thank you!
And hang in there! Good luck with your move back to the classroom!
Hey Shelley- This post spoke to me for several reasons.
First, the decision to stay or leave the classroom. I made a conscious decision to stay in the classroom last spring and did not take on other opportunities. I have felt residual guilt for staying, in terms of wondering did I let myself down for not “going for it” and for staying in the classroom? It seemed (very superficially) like I wasn’t getting ahead (whatever that means). But I stayed because teaching is what I love, from the tips of my toes, to the top of my nose. And being with kids, is one of the few places in my life where I feel complete, free to be myself and at my most creative. I have always felt this, but at times I have felt I shouldn’t be happy in the classroom as many scramble to get out. I have spent a considerable amount of time this year reflecting on my decision and on some days wondering if I had made the right one. Again this spring I had more conflicts in this decision making area. So I was very interested to read and connect with you honest reflections on this.
Second, I LOVE the list, you shared on being a pioneer. Love it! Wow, perfect. I connect to all those characteristics very strongly.
Lastly, I was sad to hear of your difficult journey but happy to hear you have decided to go back in the classroom and I hope you find what you are looking for there.
Selfishly I am thrilled you are going back to teaching as I can invite you and you students to participate in our student online conference, that they are calling MOOCON24, check out here for more info here http://www.moocon24.com
Keep following your heart!
It seems like we have many of the same thoughts. It could be the world we live in that says success means moving up the ladder, or in our case, out of the classroom. It could be the fact that often those people get paid more and are seen as experts or educational leaders.
But I don’t believe that. I know people who have moved out of the classroom, and although they’re helping to run or support education environments, would have no ability to successfully run a “21st century classroom” if they had to. To often, so many lose touch of what needs to happen to prepare kids to be excellent thinkers & creators. Some are counting the days until they retire.
I love being a pioneer, and while I think you can do that in a central office or administrative position, at this point it’s not for me.
I want to create. I want to push the edge. I want to help kids make the world a better place & to become what they dream of.
Thanks for sharing your upcoming MOOC. Can’t wait to show it to my future students!
I will have to read that book. It looks like I am a motivator and a pioneer as well. Best wishes on your return to the classroom.
It was a great book & helped me think about things differently. The test you can actually take on-line at http://stronglifetest.com/
I’m surprised at how many people do jobs that make them miserable, and I’ve been one of them for the past while. Thanks for your best wishes. I’m looking forward to the year to come! s.
You, as usual, have kicked my butt into reflective mode. It has been an uneasy year for me as well, and I have been struggling with how best to “be me”. Learning about critical thinking and technology and trying to dovetail those with my long-time passion as a second-language teacher has been a challenge, and it’s one I’m still working on,
Thanks for the characteristics- that’s not me, so now I have to track down the book to figure out where my characteristics fit. Looking forward to the read.
So glad the path less traveled by is leading you back to social justice and the classroom. Looking forward to the dispatches from the journey.
Thanks, Lisa. The book is great. You can also take the test online at http://stronglifetest.com/
It sounds like you will once again find happiness in the classroom.
If you are interested in starting an inquiry based school, you have to check out my new school where I will be “teaching” next year – the brand new – Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry:
I am so excited, I can barely contain it! Like you, I do not see myself in an admin role. I think I would go nuts. As an artist and entrepreneur, I love being creative and building things that are real and have value with the kids.
If you have a moment, this is what I accomplished this year:
Your name keeps popping up in my circles. I hope we will get a chance to meet face to face someday.
Keep rocking it!
Unfortunately, in Sask, we’re not allowed to start schools. We have no ability to create a charter or alternative school like the one you’re talking about. However, I have heard a great deal about the one you’re going to be teaching at. It sounds like a dream school! If you ever have an opening on the team that you think fits my talents, let me know. We’re thinking of heading West in the next couple of years. All the best in your new adventure. I hope we have the chance to meet f2f, at some point too. S.
Thank you so much for sharing this. I will be taking the online test and seeking out the book. I am will be wrapping up my fifth year in the classroom soon. I love teaching and am always looking for innovative ways to get my students interested and engaged. I don’t know that I want to be in the classroom forever and I have thought about getting a degree in curriculum and instruction to help other teachers. The state I live in changed the curriculum standards four years ago, then changed the state testing standards and just recently revoked most of them. It is confusing and challenging to imagine what could change over the next few years. Your advice to be true to yourself is spot on and one of the few ways to maintain your stamina in the wild world of education. Thank you.
Never commented before Shelley. All I want to say is THANK YOU for being so real. You really sound like you are “re-grounding” yourself and that is inspirational. You have definitely landed in the right spot. I look forward to hearing about the updates. Cheers
I think re-grounding is the perfect term. It gives me hope. Thanks for writing!
Shelley, this is a great piece. you speak with passion and from the heart. You are honest and open enough to really talk about the stuff that most people only dare think about. The integration of technology with learning has been massively hyped over the years by the snake-oil vendors from the IT companies, coupled with ambitious politicians eager to appear “modern”. The net result has been a process which has been technology driven rather than learner led. IT only started to become embedded across the curriculum when we teachers wrested it from the grubby mits of the techies. Then there was the false dawn of interactive whiteboards which ended up as merely being devices to hard-wire frontal teaching, and set back student-centred learning 20 years !
Now all the hype is about MOOCS – as if technology ever could be substitute for the strange and wonderful chemistry of pedagogy – leading learning !
I admire you. You have done the RIGHT ( Wright – ho – ho ) thing going back to the classroom. That’s where it happens; that’s where you can touch lives; and with your deep knowledge of Ed tech you will be able to enrich the lives of the learners whom you touch. Technology enriched schooling is not just around the corner, it will take, I reckon at least one more generation of teachers before it starts to happen in any meaningful and coherent way ( I guess you must have read Torin Monahan’s excellent book ” Globalization, Technological Change and Public Education).
Thank God we seem to have, at least, moved beyond the fatuous World According to Microsoft and, to take one example, the dreadful dead-end of SCORM compliant learning objects!
Living is for learning is for living.
Good on yer Shelley – GO FOR IT !!
Shelley, thank you for being so open about the “process”. It can be so easy to base our opinions of the highlight reel of others’ lives-your candor is refreshing. Thank you for sharing your struggle with the big decisions. I hope that this fall is a shift in a positive direction for you.
Thank you so much. For me, blogging is partially about helping myself understand the process. I think I figured when you grew up you would know who you were. That you would arrive at some static conception that didn’t change.
We talk a lot about child development & adolescent development, but sometimes figuring out who you are as an adult isn’t easy either! Thanks for your best wishes. I appreciate it 🙂
Oh, so true….it isn’t easy to figure out who we are, and where we’re supposed to be, to best grow into our talents. And we forget that, and we expect that we’re supposed to slot into “being a grown-up”, and not grow anymore. The heck with that – let’s keep figuring it out together.
Hi! I happen to stumble upon this piece – and I just want you to know there is someone who can almost 100% relate what you wrote in this it’s almost creepy I know! But I just want to say thank you for writing even if it’s just for yourself to make sense of things, it has also given me some food for thought in my own very similar uncanny situation. Thank you so much. 🙂
It’s been interesting to read how many people have struggled or are struggling with the same situation, especially since I’ve felt so alone during most of the process. It’s taught me that there are always people who can relate. I think that’s one of the reasons I love blogging 🙂 Thanks for reading!
Shelley, I wondered why we hadn’t heard from you recently. You’ve been missed! Have you read “The Courage to Teach”, by Parker Palmer? I think this books speaks to teaching in ways others do not. He wrote another book I love, “Let Your Life Speak”. It would be great to start a discussion of how to take care of the inner life of a teacher as educators find some time to refresh over the summer. Thank you for sharing all of this with us. I know you aren’t the only teacher who feels this way.
I love Palmer’s stuff, but haven’t read it in a long time. His Courage to Teach is one of the things that helped create the teacher that I am. I think I need to pull it off the shelf this summer. Thanks for reminding me 🙂
Another fascinating introspective. Thank you for sharing. It reminds me to keep figuring out stuff rather than settling for stuff that I think I’ve already figured out. Refreshing!
Sometimes I feel like we are in parallel universes but you are a galaxy ahead of me. Thank you for your honesty and having the professional ovaries to say it like it is! I have the luxury of being a Teacher Librarian in a Learning Commons. However, in September I will be leaving my school where I have been since 2000 to work as a Helping Teacher for Library and Information Media Literacy for #sd36learn. I have had to make a decision based on what I think will be best for me and my family with the hope that it is the best one. Your last two years have been challenging Shelley but we are all inspired by your blogging about your learning journey. I know you will find your “niche” element where your passion and talent coincide.
Oh and by the way, as a long time social justice activist, in my opinion you do have something to contribute to the academic discourse…your unique perspective as a pioneer from pioneer stock! I love the pioneer metaphor as it reminds me about what we are doing in education compares to the grit, creativity, and resilience that our ancestors had to have as they carved out a life on the prairies as the first pioneers. The answers to cure this hurting world are coming from diverse global conversations and collaborations and I am glad that you are one of the voices in the mix!
Thanks, Lisa, for your kind words & encouragement. It was actually your library that made me think I might enjoy a position like that someday. You’ve done some amazing work there!
Congats on moving to be a helping teacher! I think at the right time, right place & for the right person, that can be an excellent job. I think it depends on a lot of things. For me, I always felt like I was trying to sell something that people didn’t want to buy, which isn’t my personality. But I think your division is in a very different place.
I’ve come to realize that I’m not “done” being in the classroom. In the future, I might choose to do something else, but for now I’m ready to go back & play in the sandbox 🙂
Like so many others who have commented, I love reading your blog and have missed you. I love how open and reflective you are in your thought process and experiences. I so appreciate that you are willing to be publicly vulnerable. Although I started following your blog because you shared your PBL holocaust experience, I have really appreciated the honesty with which you have shared your entire journey; in, out, and back into the classroom.
In this post I really liked the line: “As Ken Robinson states, your element is where your talent meets your passion.” I think a lot of times we get ‘talked into’ following our talent more than our passion. We like to hear that we are good at something, so we do what others want/need us to do. Sometimes in that our passion gets lost.
I hope that you can find your passion again in a place that also makes use of your many talents. Good luck and keep us all posted.
Thanks, Lisa. I look forward to going back to what I once loved. I received my fall schedule yesterday, and I was almost giddy with excitement! I think that’s a good sign. Thanks for your encouragement 🙂
Shelley, thank you for your insightful reflection. I have reread your post 3 times today. It speaks to me in so many ways. You have put into words some of my own thoughts and anxieties over the past few weeks – serendipitous timing. I am embarking on my final year of my Masters of Educational Practice. I have also accepted an educational leave for the year. This will take me out of the classroom to focus on research and balanced time with my family. Yet my MEd is focused on building an inquiry. I ask myself “can I engage in authentic inquiry while not teaching?” I see this year ahead as an opportunity with potential possibilities. I agree with you in that “not every path or opportunities is the right one to take.” Do I play it safe or do I open myself up for possibilities? I also love Buckingham’s identity of the Pioneer! Reading this has provided me with a more succinct perception of myself. I intend to dig deeper. Maybe that’s where my real tensions lie; in my want to teach through inquiry while feeling compelled to teach content. Again, many thanks.
Great stuff Shelley.
I bet that’s got a lot of us reflecting, as we should.
Thanks for sending it my way.
Great reflections. Very well written. Thanks for sharing!
I’m a few days behind on reading my feeds, but I wanted to say thank you for, once again, being so honest and transparent. I appreciate your willingness to share your successes and your failures and openly reflect about both. You’ve inspired me to be more open and honest about my experiences, and I am grateful to you for that. I hope this next year is a continued season of risk and reflection, but may it also be a year of renewal, as well.
Thank you. Your well wishes are greatly appreciated!
Since you write so perceptively and eloquently about children, their needs, teachers and teaching I’ve always assumed your element is pedagogy. It’s true you’ve been doing a lot of pioneering in your work as a teacher, but it’s your insights and your vision about pedagogy that are so important and so inspirational. You have the capacity to teach teachers about the very essence of their work, and you have huge credibility because you’ve actually been doing what you advocate. It’s not so surprising that you’ve come across lots of teachers who weren’t ready, willing or able to embrace your ideas, but there are millions out here who are! Don’t be an administrator, keep on blogging, and I look forward to the books & ebooks you will no doubt write on teaching and pedagogy! GF
I’ve never thought about it that way. I’ve read this comment many times & it’s given me something to reflect deeply upon. While I realize my pedagogy is different than many teachers, I’d never thought of it as being my element, although it is what I try to teach when I work with a group of teachers. Thank you for giving me something to mull over so deeply 🙂
I truly hope you will remain a pioneering classroom teacher and continue to enjoy your work as a teacher for many more years, whilst continuing to blog and to write for various publications, before publishing the books on pedagogy that you undoubtedly have within you. I truly believe your talent as a writer for teachers is outstanding, and that you will have a growing worldwide audience just waiting to share your insights into teaching and learning. Gary
Thanks so much for posting this, Shelley. Over the last few weeks I went back and forth about whether to apply for an administrative position, whether to keep the interview, and then whether or not I would accept the job if it was offered to me. As I was answering questions during the interview I realized that I wasn’t ready to leave the classroom, at least not yet. Like you I realized how much I would miss the kids, and I knew I’d also miss the 2 amazing teammates who have pushed me to grow and learn so much this year. I hope you find yourself excited to get up and go to school every morning during the next year, but if not I’m sure there is something that’s perfect out there waiting just for you. And I’m looking forward to hearing all about your journey. Thank you so much for sharing.
Thanks for sharing your own story. I’m surprised how much my story resonates with others. Often I think I’m alone in this stuff, but once I blog, I always seem to find out otherwise! Like you, I’m not ready to leave the classroom, and I’m not sure I’ll ever be, but I’ve come to realize I don’t need to worry about that right now. I just need to take it one year at a time 🙂
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You know…you could always start a school that is run by teachers! Shared leadership wouldn’t be so burdensome as everyone could be involved in “running” the school. And you could still have your inquiry school.
Don’t stop chasing that dream. Just think differently about how to get the administrivia stuff. You can do it. I know that 1000%.
Thank you Shelley! My best friend is going through a career change from the classroom to tech/PD type work for the district. Your words echoed some of her struggles right now. Not sure where this path may take her, but I’m passing this post her way.
It’s refreshing to read an educator that is committed to delivering her best for students or moving on to where her true passion might lie. Best of luck to you.
As so many others have already stated you have hit home with this post. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, reflections, your questions about your purpose.
I connected to your post as for years I have questioned my own path. For me it was that I have been asked to go into administration, I have been encouraged to get out there and share what it is I do and inspire teachers rather than just the students. But I have continued to remain in the classroom where I love to help my students find and reach their potential.
On two separate occasions I was put into the acting VP role. each was for a year and each time was under a different principal. After both of these stints I was asked to apply to be a VP. On the second round I was even called by our assistant superintendent encouraging me to apply. I said no.
I said no because when I was VP I missed doing what I love. Even though I was still teaching 60% I knew that I was not giving my students the best of me. I did not enjoy dealing with the daily meetings with parents, I didn’t enjoy the administrative paperwork, I didn’t enjoy the endless stream of discipline issues. My frustration came with the fact I do have a vision for what I feel is best for students and learning, and for a school community but there wasn’t the time to act on this vision. I was frustrated with no longer doing what I love to do.
So I have truly connected with you. I still question whether I should be taking on a different role as I am being encouraged to do. Like you, I am questioning where to now. Thank you so much for sharing.
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