Hi, my name is Jo…

Here I am with more struggles and admissions of guilt :).  I read a really interesting post here.  The author gives a very candid look at teacher development/improvement and reflects on why many of us don’t really improve our teaching, but instead do what I would call “Extreme Makeover The Hell Out of” our practices.  We try new things, add new technology, beef up our professional development attendance, get a Twitter account, blog, join a Facebook or Twitter group for the good-humored abuse of hashtags all in the name of collaboration.  BUT while we are busy dressing the bulldog in haute couture, how often do we stop to recognize that it is still a bulldog in haute couture?!  That’s my year so far–a big fat ugly bulldog dressed in dazzling silver sequins and patent-leather cherry red Jimmy Choos (there is just something about red patent-leather that grabs my attention).

The author encourages teachers to take a good, hard look at their practices and do more honest reflection about the what, why and how of teaching.  He says that improvement requires HARD work.  Not the #omgthisfrickin’makesmewannawriteanincrediblylonghashtag kind of hard, but the kind of HARD that makes you feel like that awkward first year teacher who combs through every crossed t and dotted i in a lesson plan, wets her pants at the sight of an administrator or master teacher entering her classroom, goes home and cries into her pillow with a bucket of fried chicken and declares that she is absolutely the worst teacher in the world, and yet goes in 2 hours before school starts to set up her classroom, create handcrafted materials, and double check those crossed t’s and dotted i’s and braces herself for another day of struggles.

Lately, I’ve been remembering my first 3-5 years of teaching and I agree with Mr. Pershan.  I can honestly say that I was a better teacher during those first 5 years than I am currently (working on year 7).

I recently sat with a colleague and expressed to her my dismay at being unable to pinpoint WHY I’m struggling to the point of drowning this year.  I was given an extra prep this year to help with planning for a heavy load (I’m teaching English at every grade level 9-12th with a wide variety of ability levels 2nd grade-post secondary), I passed off my position as ELA chair to someone more experienced, and I’m at school for nearly 10-12 hours a day most days and yet I still can’t “Get things done.”  I’m not creating phenomenal lesson plans, I’ve hardly touched my iPads this year, I’m barely getting my gradebook up to date, and I frequently have days where I just sit in my car and cry.

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I’d like to introduce myself.  Hi, my name is Jo, I got a husband and kid and I work in a “Button factory” one day, my Boss comes to me and says, “Jo, are ya busy?”  “I say no!” “Then push the button with your right hand”…hi, my name is Jo….

Remember that song?  It goes on for as many body parts as Joe-Schmo can manage to use to push all these endless and sometimes pointless buttons.  That’s my year.  Pushing buttons is not hard.  Pushing hundreds of buttons with body parts that rarely see the light of day is #omgthisfrickin’makesmewannawritealonghashtag hard BUT it is not going to make me a better teacher.  It will not make Joe a better employee.  In fact, it makes him a schmuck.

We as teachers need to learn to take the “simple things” and learn to do them WELL.  Learn to do them so well that people start to realize that these “simple things” really aren’t that simple; that they take quite a bit of skill and expertise.  It’s not about how MUCH you do, but how WELL you do it.  Think about the teachers that you looked up to when you were an intern.  My observing teacher was fantastic at connecting with students.  I don’t remember ever lauding over her lesson plans, or her use of technology in the classroom.  I do remember being awestruck to see her strip off her shoes and race her students barefoot to the cafeteria, hellbent on beating them. It’s a skill that I still have not managed to master (BOTH connecting with students and stripping off my shoes to run barefoot to the cafeteria)  but may be the one simple thing that I need to perfect in order to improve my teaching.  By establishing a personal connection with each student, she was able to get these kids to idolize her and cooperate even on their toughest days.  You could see that she personally cared about each and every one of her students and that each student KNEW that she cared.  They trusted her and loved her.

Now, that does not mean I need to attend a plethora of professional development workshops on the “back to basic” skills of teaching, nor do I need to find a twitter group to vent all my frustrations to in a fury of hashtag bombs.  What I need, want, and miss most of all is a mentor to share resources, provide feedback, and help me evaluate what works and what doesn’t.  I need a mentor I trust and look up to within my profession–not an administrator giving feedback for evaluation purposes.  But first, I need to take the damn Jimmy Choos off the dog and admit that it’s SO not working!

So, I may be Jo Schmuck this year, but I’m going to at least admit it and attempt to work harder on perfecting simplicity.

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3 thoughts on “Hi, my name is Jo…

  1. Pingback: Perpetual Pick Up Sticks | The Reflective Teacher

  2. I WAS in your position for a long time too. The only thing I can say- it is your classroom and you need to do it YOUR WAY.
    If you want to just go back to being simple and connect with the students more so you can have them do more for you (on what really matters)- then do it.
    Try not to strive to be too perfect. I was a perfectionist too.
    Use what really works. Throw away what doesn’t (if it’s just all trappings).
    Do some fun activities! It’ll put some fun back into teaching, I hope.
    One of the activities I missed the most which was cut off were field trips. Sometimes just
    getting out of the classroom and exploring the outside world was in itself, an exhilirating experience. (You could do a fund raising activity with your students to get funds for a field trip-during class time. Do the selling only after school).
    Maybe instead of staying after school putting in long hours- go home. Do what you need to do one Sunday of the month. Maybe it’ll give you more balance. More Life, Some work. You also only have your daughter once in your life.
    Make the student’s more accountable for their learning. If a student didn’t want to learn and didn’t put in the work- then it was on their shoulders, not mine. I did my part, I documented it-I informed the student of their consequences. A few shrugged their shoulders. That shrug was all the answer I needed. (I am facebook with MANY successful students. Where are the ones that were not so successful?) Hhhmmm. Makes me wonder.

    The adminstrators can’t hurt you as long as you do your job-(teaching). The adminstrators can’t hurt you as long as your students (are learning).
    They want perfect teachers, perfect students, perfect outcomes, perfect technology, perfect school for the deaf- all to make them (the adminstrators) to look perfect.
    Sorry. I didn’t teach (to make you appear perfect). I taught (so the students could at least have some skills when they left the school). I taught (so the student knew that someone cared enough). I taught (because I love teaching and I loved to influence the student’s learning in a positive and fun way). I taught (because education matters).
    Like you, I wished that they were more supportive, less demanding. More friendlier, less rigid, more helpful, more “for us”, than more “for them”.

    My mom was a teacher for 30 years. She always wished there were never administrators. She believed a group of teachers could administrate better than one administrator. She believed a group of teachers knew much more than any administrator ever did-in some way she was right but I will never know. That opportunity was never offerred to me.

    I wasn’t dimissed for my teaching. I was dismissed because someone didn’t like me “being me”- that’s all. I still have my teacher certification. I still have my Master’s Degree. Like you, I was burnt out-going on 15 years in the same department. I did ask to transfer to middle school (thinking it would help with my sanity at that time). I was denied that opportunity.
    I wish that I had joined the teacher’s union (as my mom had and my grandfather had-both were teachers). Not sure how the union could’ve helped but…. I can’t go back so.

    From someone who has been there, done that and knows exactly what you are saying-this is what I offer you on my simple, cracked but still colorful plate.

    God bless you!

    • Hi Staci, thank you for commenting! My first comment, WOOT! I want to clarify that I’m not blaming administration for piling on the work load. I’m blaming me for continuing to say “sure, I can do this on top of all the other stuff I have to do!” You are right that I am most likely trying too hard to be perfect–that has been my personality probably since birth :). I have been conditioned to think that turning down the work will mean I am a bad employee (not necessarily a bad teacher). I am led to believe that somewhere out there in the world are teachers who can do it all! In reality, most of them are probably just like me, struggling and trying to find that “Sweet spot” that will make this year SHINE. There are phenomenal teachers out there in the world, and I’m hoping at least one of them will find my blog and get in touch with me. I’d love to have a mentor!

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