I remember becoming pregnant with my daughter and the absolute mix of excitement and trepidation I felt at the very idea of becoming a parent. When she was born, I promised myself I would learn as much as I could and work my absolute hardest at becoming the best parent I could be. I read TONS of books, watched all the baby shows and joined several discussion boards. The information overload often stressed me out to the point that I was constantly worrying about whether or not I was making the best choices for my daughter. There were the never-ending debates on breastfeeding vs. bottle feeding, cloth vs disposable, cry it out or co-sleep, to vaccinate or not. Then there was the incessant comparison of so and so’s son/daughter already potty trained at 12 months while another mother’s kid was still in pull-ups at 4; one kid walking at 9 months while another kid didn’t start walking until nearly 2; worrying because someone’s kid got a rash that turned out to be the bubonic plague (ok, I’m exaggerating this one but you know what I mean). I remember feeling excited to chat with other parents going through similar issues at the same time, I was overwhelmed and more often than not, felt as if I was doing everything wrong. What do you do as a new parent when another parent tells you that any mother that lets her infant cry it out should be considered a child abuser? Or that using disposable diapers is “lazy parenting”? At one point, I just stopped reading, stopped checking the mommy boards, and I looked at my daughter. She smiled at me, hugged me, and said, “Mommy, you’re my best friend.” That’s my feedback, she’s the only one I need to listen to as far as what I do as a parent. Every child is different, and I couldn’t mimic another parent’s results with 100% success even if I tried. I now know that my husband and I will always do what’s best for our children. Why? Because we love and care about them. We wish to see them grow into spectacular adults. We will make mistakes along the way, but constant criticism paralyzes. It does nothing to move the dialogue forward.
So, how does this apply to teaching? I read a wonderful post by David Theriault. He has been encouraging his students to blog using topics that students “re-frame” to match their own understanding. I love this idea, and decided to try it on my own.
So, here I am, re-framing teachers. We all know that teaching is like parenting, but the constant criticism we receive as teachers –not just from politicians, media and the like–but from each other parallels the criticism parents receive. It is tough to hear comments like “Any teacher who hands out worksheets is damaging student learning!” or “Teachers who aren’t constantly asking students what they want to learn should not be teaching!” or “Stressed out teachers are pathetic!” It takes a lot not to let the criticism paralyze you.
I conjecture that most of us are trying to do what is best for our students. I pose that we all make mistakes and that no one method is the magic elixir that will suddenly make students LOVE school. We all have DIFFERENT students with very different needs. For myself, I need to stop thinking that everyone else knows what is best for my students. I see them every day, I work with them every day. I care about each one of them and no one feels it more than I do when they fail (except maybe the parents). No one on those message boards carries that guilt heavier that maybe something I did made the student fall through the cracks. However, I also know it is my job to continue to learn.
Unlike parents, we aren’t stuck in our roles. We are teachers by choice. Some great teachers are leaving the field because of the “out with the old, in with the new” mentality that has been infecting our dialogue. Suddenly things these teacher won accolades for have become cliché and inappropriate for the “21st century learner”. There has to be a way to connect with teachers who have over 30 years of experience, find out how to take their knowledge and skills, and apply it to the new demands of our ever-changing student body. Experienced teachers also have to be open-minded about innovative practices and allow the new teachers to share knowledge. In the end, teachers must meet the needs of their individual students. As all teachers know, what works one year may not work the next. We ALL make mistakes. No one is an exemplary human being all of the time. You have to trust the decisions you make and hope that your young ones will turn into phenomenal adults.
I always consider at least two things when I post comments on twitter:
1. Does my comment reflect a desire to build connections?
2. Am I being honest about my own practices as an educator?
I have to be careful not to make Twitter a sound board for my complaints but demonstrate a desire to learn from them. I also want to make sure that new teachers know, just like new parents, that whether or not you are a good teacher (parent) depends largely on the relationship you share with your students (children). Don’t let others decide what kind of teacher you will be.