I did not sign on as a teacher to perpetuate the status quo. The reason why so many of my blog posts, private conversations, and personal reflections have an element of questioning is because I need to be better at this* to disrupt the current systems. So I look for ways in which I can be better.
As current and former students, colleagues, and administrators have said – before asking what I need to do better, I should evaluate what it is that I do well. What do I stand for? What do I believe in? How am I positioning myself for the disruptive innovation required in education? Let’s start with what I know.
WHAT I KNOW
I know content, I am caring, and I am focused.
I know content really well. As my best man said in his toast to the groom at my wedding: “Sean knows a little bit about a lot of things.” It’s true – I like to be well informed on a number of topics and issues. I take in a lot of information – I read news stories for at least half an hour to start my weekdays – sometimes entire mornings on the weekends. I listen to podcasts while at the gym and driving to and from school. I listen intently to conversations around me… and when someone can teach me something in which I have an interest, I bombard them with questions to flesh out my understanding. It’s tiring being my friend, colleague, or teacher.
This facility with content allows me to answer student questions, to guide their interests and learning, and to support their own processes of inquiry. I model my inquiry process daily – and show my students that it’s okay to challenge systems – but you need to do so from an informed position.
I really do care about my students, their lives, their interests, and their obstacles. It’s not always easy for someone like me to communicate that care and concern – but it’s there… for all of my students… all the time.
I know that their life experiences are going to be terrifically different from my own. I know that when they leave high school, the challenges and opportunities facing them are foreign to my experience. So I share my decision making processes and struggles. I share my thoughts and feelings and worries in hopes of giving them insight into one way to approach dynamic situations. I can’t predict the future, but perhaps in sharing my past, my students will be able to learn how to author their present.
The most difficult teaching day I’ve had came in March of 2016, a few days after my cousin Emily died in a tragic car accident.
I knew that I could not be the teacher that my students deserved. I knew that my mind was so far removed from the classroom in which I stood that I was not doing my job. It hurt.
So I told my students.
I told them that her passing was messing with me in ways that I could not comprehend… That I knew I couldn’t be there for them in the ways that I wanted to. And that I understood when they were feeling that they couldn’t be present in school for the ways in which the school wanted them to be either. I couldn’t teach content that day, but I shared my heart, my mind, and my experience. It’s one of my best lessons, delivered amid the worst circumstances.
This brings me to my final strength – focus. I know what it is that I want for my students. I bring everything back to the big picture focus on my goals to support their goals. Whether I’m lost in a sea of emotion or engrossed in an interesting story from history – I have my eye on the prize. Constantly. I try to find the best way to be the best teacher for my students at all times… so, sorry folks, that also means learning and growing and not accepting my own status quo. To change the world, I’ve got to change who I am within it first!