Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Reflections from a First Year Administrator

A year ago, I left my classroom. In my career in education, this was not the first time I chose to leave. A number of years earlier, I left my 5th grade classroom to become a technology coach for several years, but eventually I began feeling rusty and knew it was time to revisit my roots so that I could refine my skills as a practitioner.

When I returned to the classroom this most recent time, I felt vulnerable and afraid. So much had changed in such a short period of time...could I keep up with the demands of the classroom? Common Core Standards, Standards Based Grading, 1:1 Technology...all of this was foreign to me, yet I had been an educator for nearly a decade. Surprisingly, muddling through the experience of starting over and teaching something completely new taught me more than I ever expected. These lessons have become even more apparent now that I have been gone from my classroom for a full year, and I can reflect back on what that last year as a classroom teacher taught me. I hope that my lessons can be shared with other educators who are questioning their own journey in the ever-changing, constantly evolving field of education.

Never Say Never
There seems to be an unwritten rule in education that once you take a role in administration, you don't go back into the classroom. I suppose this is true the majority of the time, but I will never say that I'll never go back. Maybe it's because I believe that my heart will always be in the classroom. Or maybe it's because ever since I was very young, my mother always told me to "never say never." While my next classroom may look a little different, with different learners or a different environment, I often find myself thinking about what it might be like to teach again in some capacity. So, in the spirit of my mother's wisdom, I say to all educators: never say never. Be open to possibilities. Be open to change. Change makes you better - even when you are already pretty darn great!

It's Not About You
Our job as educators is to teach kids to be engaged in their learning and inspired to do great things with their lives. Our job is not about grading fewer papers or having more plan time. It is not about finding a shortcut to make our lives easier. Granted, I loved finding ways to work smarter not harder, but I always kept those students at the center of my craft. Sure, a multiple choice quiz would have been much faster to grade, but those extended response questions gave me much more information about what my students knew and were able to do! Yes, stepping away from the front of the room and letting each student work on a different project at the same time was a management nightmare, but it was not about what would be more manageable for me. It was about making the learning rich and meaningful to my students. Let's make an effort to focus on what really matters in education. It's not about us; it's about our students. 

So What if the Kids are Smarter Than You
Teachers don't need to be the keeper of all knowledge anymore. We have Google for that. Instead, teachers must view themselves as a facilitator of learning to equip all kids with the skills to communicate, collaborate, think critically, and create. A student may have access to incalculable amounts of information in the palm of his hand, but his chances of becoming a successful human being depend on the support of the adults around him. Kids still need teachers, so don't worry if your students are smarter than you! They may be smart, but teachers have wisdom and experience, and that's something that can't be Googled.

Love it or Leave it
Teacher tenure is a blessing and a curse in the field of education. For teachers, it provides job security and financial stability, but it can also keep teachers feeling trapped in a job that they don't want to be doing anymore. I'm not interested in starting a tenure debate, but I do wish more teachers took the "love it or leave it" approach to their careers. If you love it, then by all means, teach as long as you can so that you continue making a difference in the lives of children. But if you don't love it, it's okay to leave it behind and find something new to do. Life is short. We should all do what we love and love what we do...especially when we have the potential to touch the lives of children.

It's amazing what you learn from deep reflection of past experiences, and the summertime is a natural time for reflection for educators. If you are winding down from one school year and preparing for another, take the time to look back, to pause, to reflect. Looking back brings clarity to the future.