This past year, I’ve participated in the #teach180 microblogs on Twitter, and it definitely got me more engaged in using Twitter as a professional development tool. I’ve interacted with people who I’ve never met, getting and giving ideas and feedback from all over. I was really good about posting nearly every day at the beginning, then it dropped off a bit, now I mostly post every other day because we’re on block scheduling and I give the same lessons two days in a row. I felt like I didn’t have anything exciting to share on the second day of teaching the same material, and some blocks I didn’t post at all because “all they did was take a test” or something similarly visually unappealing.
This got me thinking about how we present ourselves as teachers and reminded me of an article in the Atlantic I came across a while back (possibly last summer, though it was first published in 2014)- I Lie About My Teaching. Ben Orlin describes some of the tensions I’ve been feeling this year- how what we choose to say about our teaching paints a picture for others and can give the idea that everything is rosy or that everything is hell. But, as he says, “In the classroom, it’s never pure gold or pure tin; we’re all muddled alloys.”
I want to present myself as a very student-centered educator. So the things I chose to post on Twitter were usually student-centered activities. I occasionally tweeted about my bad days, but it certainly wasn’t as often as I actually had bad days (or, more often, mediocre days).
— Heidi Park (@heidijpark) May 19, 2016
— Heidi Park (@heidijpark) March 24, 2016
D43: S heard saying “guess I’m not that smart in chem” after getting back quiz. How to really change Ss thinking about “smart”? #teach180
— Heidi Park (@heidijpark) November 10, 2015
— Heidi Park (@heidijpark) October 26, 2015
When I stop and honestly reflect on my year and my posting, I realize that part of the reason I was posting less and less often as the year went on was because I didn’t feel like I had anything “worthwhile” from that day to post. Sometimes, in the busyness of teaching, I just forgot. Sometimes when I remembered, all I had was the (boring) review material we did that day. Sometimes their whiteboards weren’t interesting, even though I had photos (because of a visually impaired student, I had an excuse to take photos of their whiteboards often). It’s not that I was ever outright lying about my classroom, but no one can see what happens in my class unless they are literally right there, and what they would see is a completely mixed bag.
My classroom isn’t exciting all of the time. Their whiteboard discussions are often boring and half of the students aren’t paying attention at any given time. I’ve had problems with keeping specific students engaged this year (mostly boys- which is another wondering that I’ll leave for another day). They struggle with labs and what the post-lab questions are asking them about; they struggle with interpreting data that doesn’t clearly have independent and dependent variables. When I invited my 3 min observation club in to see my classroom earlier this year, I was apprehensive and nervous that they would judge me harshly for what didn’t happen in my classroom. When an administrator drops by for my observations, I’m apprehensive that they will see things that need work and use that to penalize me (this is mostly an irrational fear, as my admin doesn’t really use observations that way).
However, I’m coming to believe that these “unimportant” or “unexciting” pieces of teaching are just as vital to post as the time that kid says the most amazing thing during the post-lab discussion or the time that new inquiry-based lab was amazing and the students learned all the things. Sometimes I wonder if the conversation in online spaces (and elsewhere) about teaching contributes to the ideas of “rockstar” teachers who can just lift any student up (and therefore if you aren’t successful at doing that, you’re not a good teacher).
This is the reality of teaching. And I confess, I am sometimes intimidated to start a conversation with an educator that I’ve never met and who looks (from their Twitter profile or blog or whatever) to be an amazing teacher. It’s even sometimes intimidating to start a conversation with teachers who I know in real life because I don’t want them to see me as a sub-par educator. I struggle with being honest with my own coworkers because what if they see my honesty as proof that my methods don’t work? Or if they think I’m just bragging when I want to share something that went really well? (It’s challenging working with teachers who have different teaching philosophies.) Teaching is such a personal profession, it’s hard to separate myself and my self-worth from how others judge my teaching. But honesty is important too- the honesty to recognize that we all have bad days and a lot of mediocre days. That we aren’t where we want to be as educators but are working toward it. Because how can I improve if I’m convincing myself that everything is rosy?
So I’m challenging myself for next year (and the rest of this year- we aren’t done until June 21) to be more honest about what happens in my classroom. As Ben Orlin said at the end of his article, “But I think we owe it, to ourselves if to no one else, to tell the most honest stories that we can. I’ll only advance as a teacher, and offer something of value to those around me, if I’m able to say what I do.” I want to unabashedly share the good, the bad, and the just mediocre, and hopefully by my own candor encourage others to do the same.