Happy Valentine's Day. If you're an elementary teacher, you likely made it through a party yesterday full of cards and sugar. Congratulations. If you're a high school teacher, maybe there was more awkward angst about love and hormones in the air than normal. You made it through. If you're a middle school teacher, like me,maybe the day was somewhere in the middle of those two. And anyway, just for being a middle school teacher- way to go. :)
So, it's Saturday and it's a holiday about kindness and caring, I want to direct some love and appreciation your way. There are a lot of things that constitute a successful and healthy teacher. I've been thinking about this a lot lately and here are the most important ones to me:
- Keep your eyes on the true prize.
- Lift other teachers up.
- Love thyself.
Keep your eyes on the true prize: There's a lot of pressure right now in our society to measure teaching and learning with numbers from standardized tests and dots on charts. Of course we need to look at data and testing has its place but we've become too singularly focused on these things as judgements on how well students and teachers are doing. If only the story were that simple, but it's not even close.
I was at a meeting this week and we were looking at data and plotting dots on charts and a colleague was upset because her data wasn't that great. I thought about those dots all night and how much I really didn't like reducing kids to dots. I wrote her an e-mail early the next moring encouraging her to keep her perspective. Those dots can give some information that can inform our teaching practice but they don't come even close to telling all there is to tell about a student. They don't tell us the back story. They'll never reflect all that child has learned. And they don't even begin to reflect or predict who that child may become. They also don't tell the whole story of a teacher and her strengths..
We should have dots and graphs and charts to measure the whole child. :) Dots that measure kindness, humor, determination, resilience, inner beauty.
Every day I go into my classroom wanting my students to be successful academically, but I want them to be successful and decent human beings even more. I want them to be happy, have great relationships and connection with people in their lives, and find work that is meaningful and stimulating to them. I want them to reach their potential, whatever that might look like.
This is what the true prize is when you're working with children. It's easy to get distracted but keep your eye on it.
Lift other teachers up: Teaching can really take it out of you so we need to be deliberate about supporting each other. Everyone needs validation. It's the human condition. You might have great self-confidence and feel really good about what you're doing in the classroom, but it's really important to hear from colleagues that what you're doing matters. I really try to compliment teachers when I see them being amazing. It might be a stellar lesson and the kids are so engaged and excited that the class just flies by. It might be witnessing a teacher gently talking to a child about a problem in a way that doesn't shame but encourages that child to grow, learn, and get better. It might be a teacher having the courage to stand in front of her colleagues and share an idea or a thought or a feeling about teaching and students. Really- take a little time at least once a week and appreciate one of your colleagues. We all need it. I'm lucky that I have a colleague, my co-teacher, who is so lovely and so supportive, that I get this kind of lifting up all the time. It keeps me going more than I can tell you. Recently after a conference, she told me I get an A+ in how I've been dealing with one of our more difficult kids. It made such a difference to me to hear that, because I had been feeling like I was banging my head against a wall with this child and I needed someone to point out that maybe I was making a difference. So, go ahead. Lift each other up.
Love Thyself: What I mean is to take care of yourself mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually so that you can be the best version of yourself. Because your students need and deserve the best version of you. I gotta be honest, of my 3 bullet points today, this is the one I struggle with the most. Often when I get busy and stressed at school, the first things that I drop are the things I most need to keep me nourished and balanced as a teacher. I skip my morning run. I stop eating as well as I should. I don't find time to connect with my family and friends in meaningful ways. I skip rest, relaxation, and renewal. And, what always happens? What is the result every single, miserable time? I get run-down, exhausted, and depleted. And, I always end up at the same place, realizing that I'm no good to anyone if I'm not good to myself first.
Yesterday I came across an essay written by Kris Carr, author of Crazy, Sexy Cancer. The essay challenged me because it was about finding your purpose in life- but she didn't define purpose as your job or your goals or any of that. She said that purpose is about examining your inner life and being gentle with yourself and letting your truest self emerge. She posed many questions that really made me think and here is one of my favorites:
· What if your purpose is to take impeccable care of yourself so that you have the energy and joy to serve others?
Really, teachers- we need to take care of ourselves. I'm telling myself this as much if not more than I'm telling you. Let's try a little harder in this arena. We've got little minds and hearts waiting for us on the other side of that classroom door. Go ahead- Love thyself.
One more thing before I sign off. Here's a sweet picture from our Valentine's party yesterday. Each student got one cookie to decorate and eat but many gave me their one and only cookie. Here are a few I brought home. Happy Valentine's day, everyone.