tired

“There’s no tired like teacher tired.”

That statement is generally accepted as true, and there are a whole slew of memes to go along with it. But as I’m winding down on winter break and finding myself a little mentally exhausted at the thought of going back to school, I have to wonder why.

What do we expect from our teachers? A few years ago, I explored the idea of what is “good teaching” and what makes a “good teacher”. Some of the points that came out of my personal investigation into good teaching indicated that good teachers have all of the following:

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About a year later, I talked about “good teaching” on a podcast with some other teacher writers and we agreed that good teaching isn’t sustainable in isolation, and it is something that can/should be developed, rather than being an innate quality of a teacher. We shouldn’t expect to be excellent at teaching every day, from Day 1.

Yet right now, in the middle of my 6th year teaching, I find myself wondering if we still expect too much from our teachers, if we as teachers expect too much from ourselves.

In this 6th year of teaching, I still find myself working crazy hours. My timecard from before winter break showed too many 12 hour days. (And yes, I have a timecard because although I don’t get paid overtime, my school district requires us to clock in and out.) I sometimes think that I’m doing myself a favor by staying late and grading, but there is always more to do. And I feel like I already work at 100% efficiency, but I still need more hours in the day. It’s hard to get away from the mentality that I should return assessments to students ASAP (particularly mid-unit assessments) so that they have the feedback, that work done for a team should take priority over work done just for myself (I teach on two different subject teams), that I should be available for students outside of school hours, that I should contribute to my school community by sponsoring clubs and joining committees. All of these these “shoulds”, plus the work of, y’know, teaching and the other aspects of my life.

And I so wonder – what is the value of my time as a teacher? Is the value of that time different than the value of my time not spent teaching? There was an interesting article about a similar problem in higher education, where PhD’s find themselves in low-paying adjunct faculty positions. Elizabeth Segran argues that PhD’s are choosing to stay in an unfavorable labor market.

No one but Ph.D.’s themselves expect Ph.D.’s to live without the dignity of a living wage or to work for academic institutions that do not respect them. Indeed, when adjuncts continue accepting temporary work with no benefits, they perpetuate the very system that is taking advantage of them. The laws of supply and demand dictate the academic labor market as they do every other labor market, and universities have no incentive to change their labor practices when adjuncts willingly work for so little.

I see her argument, and I see similarities in the K-12 teaching profession, where teachers are continuously expected to do more with less. But I don’t know how to shift the market to incentivize higher value for our time, or if that’s even a good way of thinking about the problem. (I have issues with applying a market mentality to education, and this Washington Post article articulates better “Why schools aren’t businesses”). I know I contribute to the problem when I stay for 12 hr days, when I sponsor the Scholastic Bowl team (which does Saturday tournaments that go all day several times a year) for no additional compensation, when I take care of work that may or may not be explicitly within my job description (I honestly don’t know what is explicitly in my job description). I also struggle to be okay with doing less on a personal and moral level – in order to teach at the standard that I hold myself to, I need to do all those “shoulds”.

Jose Vilson, a teacher and a writer whom I respect enormously, wrote about the value of a teacher’s time recently. He argued that we should be given less classes, less students:

However, in countries that have done away with those arguments*, they’ve learned that teachers do much better by having less classes, less students, and more time for the mounds of paperwork they’re obligated to grade.

* “Those arguments” being that students need more time with teachers/teachers don’t spend enough time with students

Don’t get the wrong message – I love working with students. When my non-teacher friends ask me what’s the hardest part about teaching, it’s never the students. Yes, there are challenging students to work with, and yes, if you catch me in a certain frame of mind I will vent about said students. But honestly, if I had fewer students, fewer classes, I could give those students and those classes more of my attention. I feel guilty because I don’t know all my students, but I have 150 of them and that makes it hard. When I hear that a student of mine is through something in their life that I had no idea about, I wish I had the time to cultivate more and deeper relationships with my students. And if all of the teachers at our school had this time, what would be the impact on our students? Would there still be as many students who are struggling, academically or personally? Would we finally be able to close the “opportunity gap”? And would we as teachers feel less tired, less burned out or demoralized, by the work that we face every day?

There are a lot of narratives about teaching out there. Becky Van Tassel, another teacher writer whom I admire enormously, wrote recently about how the perception of what is “normal” can shift our behavior. But what is “normal” for teachers? Is “teacher tired” just normal, and I (still) need to figure out how to just deal with it? Is the lone “superhero teacher” who bucks the system and rises above (and pulls their students up with them) normal, and what I should be aspiring to? Or is the disempowered, burned out, demoralized teacher the normal, and I need to find my own personal coping mechanisms? I don’t want any of these things to be normal for teachers, or for myself.

I go back to school on Monday, and although I don’t really do New Year’s resolutions, I’m taking the time to take stock of where I’m at. I’m still tired, and I don’t want to continue this way. There are things I can tweak to take better care of myself personally and professionally, which I will probably try. But I’m still wondering how we can shift the narrative, shift the perception of what is “normal” for teachers, and how we can make school a better place for all who pass through, both students and teachers.

 

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the emotional weight of teaching

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It’s not quite over yet. The last day for students for us isn’t until Tuesday- but it’s finally the end of the school year. This was Year 5 for me, and I feel… tired. Drained, even. It’s not unusual to be exhausted and counting down the hours until summer break. But this year felt more emotionally heavy than previous years.

I know other teachers in other schools deal with a lot more emotional trauma than I’ve come across these past five years. I work in a school where it seems like everything is fine and great, and it always seems like most of our students have (relatively) stable home lives. I spent my first four years teaching focusing on the teaching – the lesson plans, the curriculum, the classroom structures. And sometimes, when you’re focus on those things, it’s easy to ignore things that may be happening underneath the surface. But this year, maybe because I’ve had to spend less time and energy on the day-to-day of teaching, I’ve been more aware of and more worn out by the things that may have just slipped under my radar before.

My colleague and friend started a student-teacher mentor program, where at-risk students in our school were paired with a one-on-one teacher mentor. Partly because of this program, partly because mental health just came more on my radar this year, I’ve become more aware of the issues that some of our students face, and more than once I found myself on the verge of tears as I’ve found out more about what my students are going through. I attended a Mental Health First Aid course this spring, which was super useful (and I would definitely recommend it to any teacher or anyone who works with youth), but also emotionally exhausting to think about all of the students who may need help and may not be getting it right now, for a variety of reasons.

For the first time in my teaching career, I’m having regular interactions with upperclass students. I had a junior homeroom this year and we implemented a more advisory-type thing in our school with social/emotional check-ins on early release Fridays, roughly 2x’s/month, so I had more regular interactions with students who are clearly stressed about their grades, test scores, and futures. How do I help students manage this stress, and also help them get some perspective that their high school grades are not the arbiter of their success as adults? How do I do this in a way that is helpful and authentic, and not patronizing or dismissive of their very real feelings in this moment?

There was also the never-ending news cycle of Something Terrible happening in the world. It seemed like every day, there was something new and (from my perspective, somewhat horrifying) happening and it was both hard to keep track of and hard to avoid. In particular, some of the stories that have come to light with the #MeToo movement hit really close to home in the school setting, and that’s been hard and uncomfortable.

And then, school shootings were both in your face and under the radar this year. My sister semi-joked after the Parkland, FL shooting that she was considering getting her young kids bullet proof backpacks and then suggested that actually, I might need it more. When the Santa Fe, TX shooting happened last month (only last month!), one of my students commented “10 people died and no one is talking about it.” There was a shooting at a middle school in Indiana, just a few days after the Santa Fe shooting, which hits close to home on a number of levels. A teacher tackled the shooter, and I’ve had conversations with my colleagues – would you or wouldn’t you step in front of a shooter to save your students? What kind of world do we live in that teachers even have to think about this? I used to think lockdown drills were just something you do, but this year, the possibility of a school shooting made our most recent lock down drill emotionally difficult for me as I found myself running through scenarios – what would we do if there was actually an active shooter in the school?

I can’t tell if there was actually more going on this school year than normal, or if it’s been about the same level of emotional turmoil and I was just more aware of it this year. I can see why teachers quit, particularly in the schools where students are dealing with much more overt social/emotional/mental health needs. Sometimes, the emotional weight of teaching feels like it’s too much, and we all (teachers and students alike) need a break.

And yet, I am hopeful for the next school year, despite the exhaustion of this one. In some ways, there’s not a lot I can do about the Terrible Things that are happening in the world at large or about the risk of school shootings. But I am hopeful that I can find ways to better address my students’ social/emotional/mental health needs. That I can better acknowledge them as people and all of the stuff they are going through (even if it’s “just” the “normal” experience of being a teenager, which can feel traumatic all on its own). And I am hopeful that the conversations that we’re having- at my school, with friends and family, in the world at large – will make us more thoughtful, reflective, and lead us towards positive change. Let us do the small things with great love.

We can do no great things — only small things with great love.

Mother Teresa

what’s in a title?

Teacher. Leader. Writer.

I’ve been referred to as all of these things, yet only the first one feels comfortable. And I’ve been probing myself – why? Where is the discomfort coming from? And what are the implications of that discomfort?

I’m comfortable with the title of “Teacher” because if anyone asks what I do, I tell them I teach. And in a very real way, teaching is a part of who I am. Teaching is what I do daily. Teaching is always on in the back of my brain, even during “breaks” – I’m not sure that it ever truly turns off, and I’m not sure if that’s good or bad, to be honest. Also: it’s on my paystub: “Job Title: Regular Teacher”. So I have no problem with being referred to as a teacher.

“Leader”, though – that’s a loaded word. I don’t have any formal leadership roles. What does it mean to be a “teacher-leader”? Does “teacher-leader” mean that I’m involved in official initiatives, or presenting at conferences, or influencing educational policy in some way?

Becky Van Tassell, another Knowles Senior Fellow, probed her own ideas about teacher leadership in “Leadership as a Stance: Leading from Inside the Classroom”, and summarized it this way:

Teacher leadership has been defined differently in the literature, but many researchers agree that teacher leaders are distinguished from other teachers because they influence teaching and learning within and beyond their own classrooms (Wenner & Campbell, 2016).

So then, by this definition – Do I influence teaching and learning beyond my own classroom? Probably- I work on two different course teams (physics and chemistry), and I contribute ideas and strategies to both. Do I consider myself a leader because I do those things? Not really, because I also gain a lot from those collaborations (namely, the ideas and strategies of my colleagues). And honestly, the work I do with my colleagues just feels like a part of my job, so I shy away from using the term “leader” to describe myself or the work that I do.

And then there’s “Writer”. It’s strange, because I’ve written plenty as a teacher, but I’ve never considered myself a Writer-with-a-capital-W.  Does having my own teacher blog count as being a “real” writer? Do I avoid referring to myself as a writer because it’s just something I do on the side, for myself? This space has been mostly so that I can process the things on my mind, and there’s not really another, broader, goal for my writing. Am I a writer just because I write? (To me, taking on the title of Writer just because I write feels disingenuous to those who make their livelihood writing; as someone who loves reading, I would like to acknowledge and honor the work that goes into writing for a living.)

I’m left wondering – even in adulthood, how am I developing my identity? My identity as a teacher comes from a very clear job title – someone else decided that I would be acceptable as a teacher and gave me this job. No one has given me a formal title as leader or writer. So am I only allowing others to assign my identity, rather than developing it for myself?

Identity is a complex thing, and our identities influence how we teach, how we interact with our students, how we interact with our colleagues. And their identities influence how they interact with us. (I loved this blog post by Michelle Cheyne about how she came to realize how important teacher and student identity is in the classroom, and how we often don’t know all the facets of another’s identity.) So how does my reluctance to take on the identities of leader or writer impact how I interact with others? Am I neglecting to acknowledge the ways that I am contributing to my school, and perhaps the conversation about education at large? Is there a value in acknowledging those contributions? What does the discomfort that I feel when others classify me as leader or writer actually mean? And how do I acknowledge (or fail to acknowledge) the contributions of others who may also not have a formal title to go with the work that they do?

Maybe the title Teacher feels most comfortable because that is what overshadows all of the other work. If I lead, it’s so that I can be better at teaching, so I can make things better for my students. If I write, it’s also so I can be better at teaching, by processing my thoughts in this medium I can also make things better for my students. But I’m trying to be a better teacher, and that process seems to involve picking up some new facets to my own identity, and going through this discomfort. After all,

One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.

— Abraham Maslow

 

group-worthiness

It’s (the end of) winter break, and I find myself feeling vaguely dissatisfied with my teaching this year. There’s nothing major, just- particularly in my chemistry classes- things aren’t quite right. Mostly, I’ve noticed issues with student participation that make me feel disgruntled- and make me feel like I’m not doing enough to promote equity and collaboration in my classroom. I could (and have) come up with all kinds of excuses- my chem classes are 1st period and 7th period; 1st period, they aren’t quite awake yet so they don’t always talk to each other. 7th period is so close to the end of the day that they’re either super distracted or just want to get the work done. But I still feel like I could and should be doing something more to facilitate student collaboration.

How do you help students see the value in working together? In mulling this over this recently, I think part of the problem is I haven’t been giving students enough conversation-worthy or group-worthy tasks in my chem classes. If a student can mostly complete a POGIL-style activity on their own, why wouldn’t they? It’s faster and easier. And if a group is at completely different points in the POGIL, should I not answer student A’s question about #10 while student B is still working on #7?

I struggle with inquiry in teaching chemistry more than I do in teaching physics. I’m pretty sure I’ve said it before, but it often feels like my chemistry curriculum map is a mile wide and an inch deep. My students have complained about frequent quizzing. On principal I actually agree with frequent quizzes (frequent quizzes are shown to improve student learning), but I understand the frustration on constantly being quizzed on new material. And then, with the sheer amount of content that I’m supposed to cover in the school year, it’s difficult to come up with inquiry-based activities that aren’t just a variation on a POGIL. Don’t get me wrong, I love POGILs and I think they’re way better than lecturing at my students. But recently, I’ve been wondering if I’m relying too much on these paper-based activities instead of changing things up. And are these POGIL-style activities actually giving students a reason to talk to each other?

The answer, at least right now, seems to be no. And I think there were some subtle changes I made this year that actually negatively impacted some of the group dynamics in my classroom. I stepped away from introducing group roles at the start of the year, because I’ve always dropped them by the end of the year (or more realistically, by the end of the first quarter). But now I wonder if having those artificial-feeling roles was a good way to train students to work together more, even if they only lasted a few weeks at the start of the year. (I also struggled with finding authentic roles where each student actually had a specific role to contribute to the group. So maybe I need to look into this more/again.) I also think I’ve let issues of status slide this year, so right now my high status students take over in a group while the lower status student(s) sit back, if they work together at all. How can I be more conscious about developing status of my students? I’ve been less conscientious about this, and I’m seeing the effects in the classroom.

And then there’s grouping. How do I group students to best facilitate their interactions? One of my classes this year is full of students who are already friends (about 1/2 the class, actually), and if I sit them with some students not in their friend group, I often end up with two mini-groups at one table. Where do I find the time to have students reflect on the effect of such interactions on their peers and even on their own learning? (Side note: I need to collate and organize the peer feedback that students have been submitting for the past semester.)

I’ve had this blog post by Ben Orlin in the back of my mind for a few weeks: The three barriers to deep thinking in schools. Do my assessments actually assess students on deep thinking, or just rote memorization? I feel like in chemistry, it’s particularly easy to fall into rote memorization, especially in a first year course. I would like students to think more deeply, and I love the questions that they can come up with in class. But sometimes (often) we have to move on. And I struggle with this on a pedagogical level as well as on a personal, I love chemistry and want them to understand how awesome it is level.

It’s basically the end of winter break; classes start again on Monday. A part of me feels like I should have taken more time to reflect on these issues, worked more on revamping the upcoming content so that I have more group-worthy and conversation-worthy pieces in my chem classes. I really want to incorporate goal-less problems in my physics classes (and it seems quite doable for both me and my students), and I would love to figure out a way to do this in chem as well. I want to revamp the escape room I tried last year for a semester final review. I want to incorporate some of the ideas I gleaned from reading “How We Learn: The surprising truth about when, where, and why it happens” by Benedict Carey. I want to better challenge my higher level students, and foster a deeper understanding of content in all of my students. There are so many goals, and so little time.

However, my friend and cohort member Alex Steinkamp wrote a piece for the most recent issue of Kaleidoscope, the journal published by the Knowles Teacher Initiative. His piece on Self-Talk and Sustainability is a good reminder that “I must give myself the grace to value the subtle work that I do towards the goals that underpin my work. This is not meant to be a call to complacency. Rather, this is meant to be a reminder that our real moral imperative is that we sustain our practice. Even when we fail to reach our targets, the value we add is from trying.” So, right now, I’m trying and I’m trying to see the value in trying. I’m taking the space to reflect, and hoping that in the next few weeks I can make some adjustments, no matter how small, to promote collaboration, to make the tasks I give my students more group-worthy or at least conversation-worthy. And I’m not going to beat myself up for taking more time during winter break than I have in the past to mentally and physically recharge. So hopefully, at the end of second semester, I won’t be feeling quite so disgruntled.

meetings, meetings everywhere

This school year feels different than previous years. Really, every year is different, because the students are different, I’m a little different, I’m trying different things in the classroom. But this is now my 5th year teaching, and I don’t feel like I’m reinventing the wheel anymore, which is kind of nice. This is also the first time since I started teaching that I haven’t had new colleagues join the teacher teams I work with (even though I’ve been at the same school the whole time). However, I find myself spending a lot of time in meetings.

A few weeks ago, I counted up the meetings that I had that week – it was particularly bad. In that one week, I was in 9 different meetings plus my normal teaching schedule. On Thursday, I had three meetings – before school, during lunch, and after school. In a more “typical” week, I have 3 meetings either before/after school, plus all the informal conversations that we have with colleagues during prep/lunch/before or after school.

I think a hatred of meetings is somewhat universal, no matter what profession you’re involved in. I’m sure everyone has been involved in an ineffectual meeting – whether it was people just complaining, the organizer(s) didn’t have a plan, it was a meeting that could have been an email, or just nothing was accomplished. (Incidentally, when I was watching this TED talk about givers vs. takers, I came across this article about how to get a sense of the culture of an organization when job searching, and at the very end the author suggests asking about meetings – if people enjoy the meetings they’re in, that’s a good sign. Something to keep in mind if I find myself on the job market again.)

Teachers in particular seem to dislike meetings. The culture of schools doesn’t seem to foster collegiality (different from congeniality, as outlined by Robert Evans in the article “Getting to No”). As Evans states,

Ask any classroom veterans why they teach. You’ll never hear, “I love to work with other adults and go to meetings.” Teachers have chosen a career that involves spending their days in the company of children or adolescents. They thrive and feel most confident and fulfilled when doing so. (Would we want our youth taught by people who felt otherwise?) They often see dealings with other adults — whether colleagues, administrators, or parents — as intrusions upon their primary source of work satisfaction.

And it’s true. Going to meetings is definitely not the best part of my day. I would love to have more time for my students. This year in particular, I feel like I am not available for students as I have been in the past. I used to give a blanket statement that students could see me in the mornings, but that’s no longer true because these days I often have morning meetings. And teaching two preps in two buildings, I can’t tell students that I will definitely been in room ____ before school. So now it’s “please email me if you’d like to see me outside of the school day” and I just feel less accessible to my students this year.

And yet I find myself voluntarily involved in more meetings with my colleagues this year than ever before. I’m on two subject teams that basically teach lock-step. I’m the “course team liaison” for the chemistry team. And I find myself stepping up and occasionally helping organize some school-wide PD. All of these things take time and require face-to-face interactions.  Most of these meetings take place outside the “normal” school day because I don’t have the same prep periods as the colleagues I need to meet with.

I engage in all these meetings because I feel like the work that’s being done is important. It’s important to me to work with colleagues to develop curriculum, because it makes it better than whatever I could come up with on my own. (It’s also important to me that students enrolled in the same class get a comparable experience regardless of teacher.) It’s important to me to be involved with my department as we are working through what it means for students to construct scientific arguments (we’re having a lot of good discussions about the “claim, evidence, reasoning” framework – what is evidence, exactly, and how is it different from reasoning?). And I feel like I have ideas and resources to help our school-wide meetings be more productive (particularly after the NSRF Critical Friends training I attended this past summer).

But some days, I feel conflicted. Am I doing my students a disservice by being so busy when I could be available to help them? Or am I doing worthwhile work by being involved in these groups in my school? I don’t think that I am yet doing work with colleagues at the expense of my students, but it’s a tension that I keep in the back of my mind. And then, just the sheer number of meetings is exhausting sometimes. Sometimes I find myself wishing for a Time Turner, although Hermione’s experience might suggest that a Time Turner would not actually help my sanity.

I do wish that the school day was structured differently, where there was more time built into the school day for collaboration with colleagues (although then that begs the question when would I get the grading done?). But we must make the best of what we have, and for right now I guess that means continual meetings. And I guess all I can do is continue to reflect and be honest about when I need to step back so that I can make sure I’m also able to meet the needs of my students (and keep my sanity).

The fear in dilemma

Day 3 of this Critical Friends Group coach’s training and again, so much to think about.

We spent a fair amount of time today talking about professional dilemmas. I was able to workshop a dilemma of my own, and help some colleagues workshop their dilemmas. In this context, a dilemma is “a puzzle, a problem seemingly without any desirable outcomes.” It’s something that keeps you up at night, that you have some power to solve (if you knew what to do!) and is important enough to keep at it.

Going through the dilemma protocols, we asked and were asked probing questions. Questions that pushed our thinking, that made us consider what might really be going on here. And at some point or another, the presenter of the dilemma was asked to share one or two probing questions that really resonated with them. And I noticed something.

The question “What do you fear about…” came up in every single round I participated in. (Ok, so that question stem was listed in the stems for probing questions that we were given.) But also, every single round, the question “What do you fear about…” was one of the questions that the presenter wanted to think about more deeply. (Caveat: I only have four data points right now.)

So I wonder.

How big of a role does fear play in our dilemmas? I don’t think that this is limited to my professional dilemmas. If I think about all the different things that bother me and keep me up at night, how many of them have a component of fear embedded somewhere in that frustration and worry? And how many of those fears are really the fear that this dilemma has the potential to reveal to me that I am not who I thought I was?

From my current perspective, dilemmas seem to threaten identity. If my students really aren’t learning, then does that make me a bad teacher? If what that person said is true, does that make me a bad person? Did they treat me like this because I am not likable? And perhaps, on some level, we already know what we should do to address our dilemmas, but the risk associated with unearthing a threat to identity make us run in the other direction (and spend a lot of time/energy in that running).

I want to think more about identity and the impact it has on our interactions. (Really, right now I should be sleeping, because these days are maxing me out mentally.) This past year, I read through the book “Difficult Conversations” with some other KSTF fellows because we wanted the tools to have those difficult conversations at work. The authors point out that one of the main reasons that conversations are difficult is because they threaten our identity – I don’t want to talk about that because it makes me seem like a jerk and I believe I’m a good person. I don’t want to talk about this because it makes me look incompetent and I believe I’m more than competent. What is the impact of this situation on my self-image, my self-esteem?

I think we react viscerally to threats to identity. Which might be why dilemmas are dilemmas. If this situation threatens my identity in some way (even if I’m not conscious about it), then I’m definitely going to stew about it. So I guess, if I find myself in a dilemma, I need to ask myself – is there something that I fear about this situation? How might that threaten my identity? And then, how do I acknowledge that threat, accept the disruption, and find a way to move forward?

The risk in reflection

Reflecting can be risky.

I’m on Day 2 of a Critical Friends Group coaches training (sponsored by the Knowles Teaching Initiative, formerly KSTF, with a trainer from the National School Reform Faculty. I’ll be here for three more days and I’ve already had plenty of think about. (What’s a Critical Friends Group? NSRF has an answer to that.)

Day 1 we did an activity around quotes, and this was the one that I picked:

I like this quote because it captures how growth is not easy. There’s plenty of talk in education about teaching students to struggle and teaching them to embrace mistakes as growth opportunities, but mistakes are risky to make. Particularly if they are made publicly. But a part of making mistakes and struggle worthwhile to the learning process is examining them and reflecting on them, and I’m realizing that this reflection piece can feel just as (or perhaps more) risky than just making the mistake itself. How many times have I made a mistake or had a difficult experience and just wanted to get past it, rather than thinking through what happened in that scenario and how I can learn from it?

Today, we read an excerpt from Margaret Wheatley’s book “Turning to One Another” that spoke about the willingness to be disturbed in conversations that we have with one another. There were many parts of this piece that resonated with me, but for right now, a quote:

Change always starts with confusion; cherished interpretations must dissolve to make way for the new.

Although the whole excerpt is about how we should be willing to really listen to someone else’s view and let that disturb us so that we can think well together, I also think that the willingness to be disturbed is essential when we reflect on mistakes and difficult experiences. We need to be willing to be disturbed in our assumptions and beliefs about ourselves. And that’s risky. Because what if I reflect on a difficult experience and find that there are so many places in which I can grow? What if I reflect on that difficult experience and find that it makes me question my beliefs and assumptions about who I am? Am I willing to risk having my very identity disturbed?

In teaching, everything is personal. Being a teacher is a core part of my identity; in particular, believing that I’m a reasonably good teacher is a core part of my identity. Reflecting on experiences that could expose this belief as untrue (or at least, not as true as I thought it was) is risky. But if I don’t reflect on my difficult experiences teaching, how will I grow as a teacher? I have many thoughts about the importance of reflection, and I want to promote more reflection in my students, so I need to be willing to take the risk in reflecting on my practice and be willing to face whatever disruptions to my beliefs and assumptions that might come out of that. I need to be willing to dive into the confusion that accompanies having my beliefs and assumptions disrupted, so that I can continue to grow and change.

I don’t think that, as a society, we’re good at acknowledging the importance of mistakes in the growth process or rewarding mistakes. I don’t think that we’re good at recognizing the importance of reflecting on our experiences and really learning from them, growing from them. Rather, we tend to highlight the successes and gloss over the reality that those successes required us to get through many, many difficult situations. But I want to be more willing to acknowledge my mistakes, acknowledge my difficult experiences, and use those to grow. I want to encourage my students to have this attitude, and I want to encourage my colleagues to have this attitude. I’m still not completely sure how to do this (and I’m hoping that the rest of this workshop will help me clarify some next steps for next year), but I’m just trying to remind myself of the importance of this kind of work. Even when it’s hard, messy, and uncomfortable.