I haven’t blogged for awhile. There’s a number of reasons for this. Those who know me know that I’m a huge advocate for inquiry and PBL. And after the past few months, I’m an even bigger advocate. Why? Because sometimes life happens.
You never really know what life is going to throw at you. Sometimes there is only one right answer. But rarely in life is that the case. And rarely in life is the answer found in the back of the book, although too often that’s what our students learn. Maybe as teachers we’d like to believe that too. It’s easier.
Sometimes there’s an economic downturn and you lose your job.
Sometimes your marriage falls apart.
Sometimes you’re diagnosed with a chronic illness.
In my case, it’s the latter. Four days into the school year I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and put on medical leave. The short version of fibromyalgia, for me, is that almost every muscle in my body is in pain all of the time. Often, it’s exhausting. There are multiple theories as to what causes it, but no one really knows. There’s no cure. There’s no medication for it, although there are medications that have been developed for other things that sometimes help alleviate symptoms. There’s not even a “typical” fibromyalgia case. Each is distinctly different. I’ve had to learn a lot.
Some people are able to manage their symptoms successfully and live a pretty normal life. However, approximately 1/3 of people who suffer from it are unable to work or are severely limited in their daily activities.
So what does this have to do with inquiry? For the past four months my life has become my inquiry project. Those who manage to live successfully with this syndrome are those who take control of their life. They research. They create a team of experts to work with. They exercise & eat properly. They rest. They become their own advocates. This is what I’ve spent the last four months doing. Western medicine has little to offer those with fibromyalgia, so a lot of alternative therapies are necessary.
If you want to plunge into a mountain of research that often contradicts itself, fibromyalgia would be it. I’ve had to wade through the minutiae, trying to figure out what I believe to be true and what works for me. And more times than I’d like to count, I’ve learned what doesn’t work, rather than what does. And I’ve learned it the hard way.
When it doesn’t work, it’s more than getting a bad grade. It means I can’t get out of bed. Or I miss my daughter’s skating practice. Or I don’t feel like eating for three days. Getting it wrong really matters. And along the way you have to have the tenacity to pick yourself up and try again. Are today’s schools instilling this in our kids?
Furthermore, it’s a highly emotional process, just like any inquiry project. When I work with teachers around the topic of PBL & inquiry, I always make sure to emphasize this point. It really matters. The most important job I had as an inquiry teacher was to be aware of the emotional climate of my classroom. Emotions can derail you.
There are days I feel optimistic about the future because I’m ambitious and strong. I’ve overcome a lot in my life. I’ve worked hard, and I love trying new things. However, there are days I feel overwhelmed, frustrated and doubtful because my mind is as sharp as ever, but my body won’t do what I want it to. It leads me to wonder, “What if this is as good as it gets?” “What if the rest of my life is like this?” Do most classrooms prepare students to deal with these emotions?
And after 6 months at home, I’m bored. I like to be challenged. Thankfully, I have a masters in Ed Tech to fall back on, and I’m able to work as an instructional designer for two post secondary institutions designing on-line courses, mostly from my kitchen table. As an instructional designer, I’ve been able to learn new content and skills. But I miss teaching. I would love to be able to teach on-line, but currently, that’s not something my school division really has. So if you’re looking for an online teacher, let me know. I’d love to talk.
I’ve come to realize that I may never be able to go back to the classroom, and that I may not be able to resume my PhD work. It’s hard to let go of something you were pretty good at, and that you really loved to do. I’ve had to learn to hold these things in an open hand. To figure out what really matters. And in some ways, redefine myself. Do our current school systems foster this type of resilience?
I know that being an inquiry teacher has greatly benefited me throughout this process. It’s made me more flexible, thoughtful, curious and bold. Fibromyalgia can’t be fought, only embraced.
I haven’t blogged lately because I’m not sure what to do in this space.
But I’m more aware than ever that our students need inquiry classrooms. They need to know how to research. They need to know how to check sources and try out what works. They need to know how to advocate for themselves and others. They need to know how to think critically, creatively, and to evaluate multiple viewpoints. I honestly believe the most important skill we can foster in them is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn, as Alvin Toffler so wisely stated.
Because someday, their lives may depend on it.