The Teacher I Want to Be
The education world is on fire with teachers considering their #why. Why they teach, why they are motivated, why they do what they do the way they do it. I’m 100% about the #why life. Yes, let’s reflect all the time. We should never, ever stop reflecting. But sometimes? I need to put aside the past and look ahead. I need to paint a picture of my ideal future, my ideal me, so I know where I’m going. Reflection is fantastic. Let’s also practice goal-setting, hopefulness, and a little bit of fortune telling. We go where we see ourselves going. I’m going to take advantage of that!
Right now, in mid-July, is my perfect time for this kind of forward-thinking process. Before the barrage of grading, emails, and stress that comes with a career in education, I want to really nail down my answer to this all important question: “What kind of teacher do I want to be this year?”
My first year of teaching was a lesson in survival. There was a sense that I was either going to eat or be eaten by every assignment, student, and task that crossed my path. I introduced caffeine into my life, learned exactly how poorly I function on less than seven hours of sleep, and learned which colleagues will reply to a frantic email at 11:00pm on a school night.
My second year of teaching, unsurprisingly, went better. This was my year of love. I learned to ask my students how their day was going, to actively listen to their feedback, and respect their decisions. Forget learning about English Language Arts, last year my kids knew that I loved them. Perhaps that is more important.
So, I’ve trekked through my first year of teaching, loved my way through my second, and here we are at the forefront of my third.
This year? I want to be strong. I want to push my students to be their best selves both personally and academically. I will ask more of them and ask more of myself in the process. I want to keep all of the lessons my colleagues taught me the first year, all of the love I found in my kids the second year, and find an inner resolve this third year.
I want to be a strong teacher who pushes students to do more than they think they can, even in the face of difficulty. When I think of my own outstanding high school teachers, I consider the evolution of my love for them. The summer immediately after my high school graduation, the teachers that I liked the most in that instance were those who didn’t mind letting me slip through the cracks. The teachers who saw I was having a rough time and gave me some slack that I probably didn’t deserve. And, while I hold this teachers in high regard, they are not the teachers that I want to be.
Now, looking back with the clarity of hindsight, I have to come to appreciate the teachers who pushed me the most. Like my speech teacher, who visited with me the morning when my first speech was due. Even though I bawled and pleaded for an extension, explaining to him that it wasn’t ready, wasn’t good enough, wasn’t going to happen, he held strong. He told me to do my best that day, but that there was no moving the deadline.
And so when I walked up in front of the class with a half-written speech that wasn’t fully memorized, I did my best. It was uncomfortable. But it was also fine. That was a teaching moment that I will never forget. I had made poor decisions by not completing the assignment to the best of my ability. But the world didn’t fall apart when I had to keep going. This moment taught me a little more grit, a little more growth mindset. At the time of my high school experience, that experience would not resonate with me as a positive one. But as an adult? It is something I think about regularly.
All this to say, I want to be a teacher who is strong enough to not be a student’s favorite. I want to teach them to use critical thinking skills and empower them to create. I want to be by their side as a resource, but push them to where they need to go.
I haven’t been this teacher in the past. I’ve been lenient. Out of convenience, out of love, out of a little of both. But I’m thrilled to say that, that’s not me anymore. My students are capable of more than they (or I) can even dream of. We’re going to find out together what that looks like.