I teach in a tiny school. The 8th grade class is seven students – and they’re the “big” class. Despite the size, the upper grades are completely departmentalized. There’s a different teacher for every subject, and with the way schedules work out, I never see them. Ever.
Honestly, that works for me, even though I know it shouldn’t. Bouncing around the country for so many years gave me a bit of an independent streak when it comes to teaching. It was survival mode then, but now it keeps me from reaching out or initiating collaboration (I’m working on this now). And from what I’ve picked up in meetings, the overall vision of our school is vague at best. We’re a Christian school and Biblical teaching is given highest priority, but that’s where the vision stops, as far as I can tell.
What kind of academic education do we provide? What learning outcomes are we trying to instill? What are we doing to prepare these kids for high school and the world beyond? If there is an overriding vision, it hasn’t been communicated to the teachers well. All the teachers are very qualified, but we’re all doing our own thing in isolation.
The crazy thing is, by rocking the boat and changing how I teach, I’m now seeing those conversations higher up the ladder. Among other things, the board is talking about pursuing accreditation. Maybe that process will help us define a vision, not just in our religious beliefs, but in our academic practice, as well.
The Innovator’s Mindset, p. 110
I’ve thought of myself as a “good” teacher ever since my second full-time teaching job (for new-comers to my blog, I’ve held 13 different education-related jobs in 10 years and six states). Before that I was green, still finding my footing as a new teacher, but I hit my stride at that school and found a confidence in my abilities that has carried me through all my transitions to where I am now.
There are a lot of things that contribute to that confidence – qualities that I list on my resume about connecting with students, building rapport, making real-world connections to curriculum, and so on… But there’s something else, too.
It’s funny how easily I sat down to write last week’s post, and how much I’m struggling with this one. I’m good at asking questions and pointing out problems. I’m good at talking about what’s wrong. Coming up with an actionable game plan for fixing those problems? That’s a little more challenging. But if I don’t, I’m no better than the students who complain and complain but don’t do anything to fix the problem. So how am I creating opportunities for innovation in my teaching?
Well, I’m trying, but I’m still so new at it that I don’t have any kind of “success” track record yet. I’m trying to create opportunities for innovation, but my first two dabbles – StrengthsQuest and StartEdUp’s Innovation Exchange Challenge – have yet to provide demonstrable results. I’m slightly dreading parent/teacher conferences in a few weeks because my classroom has been so non-traditional this quarter, and I don’t have much to show for it.
I feel like I’ve been on information overload lately. The more podcasts I listen to, books and blogs I read, and TED talks I watch, the more vast the problems in education appear. My reading list is growing faster than I can afford – a lot of the books I want to read aren’t available at the library, even through inter-library loan. But maybe that’s a good thing. I can only absorb so much at once. (Plus, my reading time is limited with an infant and toddler taking my attention.)
I’m also getting a crash course in using social media professionally. It’s a little embarrassing how much of this stuff intimidates me. It’s embarrassing to say that I’ve never even Skyped without someone else setting up the call. Facebook and WordPress are my comfort zones. Anything beyond that makes me nervous. And yet, I find myself entering into the world of Twitter chats, MOOC’s, and Skyping with other classrooms. It’s starting to snowball, and I’m just hoping I come out more knowledgeable and connected in the process, rather than getting overwhelmed.
Seriously. It’s gotten to the point where I literally pray before stepping on the elliptical to listen to another podcast. God, what do you want me to pull out of this one? Where should my focus be? What’s my place in all this? Help me to do what I should be doing!
Because if there’s one piece of hope for me in all this, it’s that my conviction has grown so much stronger. There is a place for me in all this, though I can’t exactly see what it is yet.
Testing… testing… Is this thing on?
After two years of silence, I’ve probably lost most of my loyal followers, but that’s OK. I’m here now because I need to write and process ideas again, and this is a good place to do that. I always lose the spiral notebooks I scribble in.
If any of my former readers are still following, here’s my life update in a nutshell: The nomadic lifestyle is done for good. I’m now the mother of two sweet girls, the wife of a practicing optometrist, and a part time middle school language arts teacher – yes, I am a teacher “for real” again!
I’ll be honest – this job isn’t my ideal niche, but I’m happy to have it. I enjoy the students, the schedule is fantastic, and I have more autonomy in my curriculum than I’d ever imagined possible. I do miss working with high school students, though. Continue reading