One thing that always seems to surprise young teachers when they are starting out is just how much time they give to the work. It’s tough. Being a teacher requires grit, the capability to hang in there and stick to it. And the less experience one has on the job, the more time, thought, and energy must go into the effort of preparing and delivering quality instruction.
When I entered the profession, the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act was in full swing. That meant there were student proficiency targets, and if schools, departments, and teachers weren’t achieving those targets, something was wrong and some aspect(s) of what you were doing in the classroom was going to go through an uncomfortable change. Teaching without these extra layers of accountability is already dynamic and complex enough as it is, so you can imagine that those early years for me involved long nights of reflecting, assessing student work, and planning instruction.
Teaching in this time meant that I felt like a lot of people were suspicious of me and what I was doing with students in the classroom. Teaching high school, my grade-level team would meet to go over common assessment data. Maybe it was just a fluke in my case, but when we would meet to go over data, no one used the word “formative.” For me it all felt “summative,” which means I had this perception that I was being judged. And I did what I could to hide from the fact that I didn’t have it all together.
As time passed, I began to see that pretty much all of my colleagues, and most of my administrators (In 14 years, I have taught under many different administrations), were not there to judge me. They were there to support my efforts toward becoming the best teacher I could be. And all administrators really want for teachers–after doing the minimum they were hired to do–is to actively engage in reflecting on their teaching practice, learning what works and what doesn’t.
As I have had many conversations with teachers over the years, I have come to learn that I was not alone in my perception. Many teachers have felt judged about their work. This experience is normal.
At times in the past, I would get really down about the work I was doing. I would question whether I was reaching students or not. I would question whether my effort was producing meaningful results (not necessarily on report cards, but in helping my students develop into people who add value to their respective communities). And there was a time where I almost hit quit point.
During some of those lows, I would open up to a colleague, or a friend who was also a teacher, to process what was running through my mind. Each time I got the encouragement I needed to press on. A handful of conversations that come to mind were so crucial, if those friends had not taken the time to listen, I think I would have left the classroom by now.
Though my story is one where I was able to endure, there are those dear friends who have given up. Because of all the pressure, they couldn’t hang in there. Beaten down, they left. I don’t blame them. And I know there are some teachers who are still teaching alongside us, but their hearts are far from the work.
Because of those key people who have taken the time to invest in my development, both as a teacher and as a person, I want to do my part to encourage and strengthen other teachers. This is what guides my work here at Make Them Master It. And my desire to help encourage teachers has also led me to launch a podcast. In 2019, it’s my goal to bring you twelve episodes of Dear Teacher, Don’t Give Up!
I have to admit, I am pretty nervous to share this. It’s a bit of an unproven concept. I really draw encouragement from hearing people’s transformation stories, especially when I can see myself in the outcome. I have a hunch you do too. I have put together a trailer for the podcast, and if you wouldn’t mind taking a minute (1:32 to be exact) to see what’s coming, I would be really grateful.
In the next week or two, the first episode will be up, and the podcast will be available wherever you listen.
Teaching is hard work. Often, it can be lonely work. I want to help us all stay connected, so we can get the strength to stay in the game longer. Our students need engaged, reflective teachers.
QUESTION: What keeps you from giving up?
If you haven’t already, follow @MakeThemMastrIt on Twitter, and like the Make Them Master It Facebook Page. I look forward to talking with you about how we can intensify our impact so that everyone wins in the classroom!