Are you a bad teacher or a good teacher? Will anything about your teaching change in 2017?
I’m pretty sure at every Camp Musicuentos, I’ve had a crier. At least one person has broken down in tears. At least one person has talked about applying to work at Starbucks. Teachers are feeling crushed under the pressure to create something fantastic, make the biggest difference, fulfill the 723 requirements we think we have as world language teachers.
Often, our online interactions can be more harm than help in this area: teachers want to be helpful and post what’s working, and then it feels like the teacher version of watching other people post perfect pictures of their perfect kids and their perfect meals and their perfect living room decor.
And then our blessed students, they’re so young, and can be so self-centered, and they do such helpful things like tell the teacher down the hall
I had her last year and I didn’t learn anything. All she did was [tell stories, give us worksheets, explain grammar, plan her wedding, ask me to pay attention instead of paint my fingernails].
It’s not just Camp Musicuentos. It’s the conversations I have over coffee. The emails that show up in my inbox. Two of them last week.
It’s not just other people. Last year, I thought so many times,
Don’t follow up on that comment, they’ll think you have to have the last word.
Don’t make any suggestions, they’ll think they have to cave to your opinion.
There was this one thing I screwed up and had to find out it was blogged about by pure chance, not because anyone told me.
There was this one opinion I expressed in just the wrong way and I couldn’t clarify enough to make the world happy and that did not end well.
There was this other thing I maybe screwed up on but had to find out thirdhand and still don’t quite know what’s wrong or how to fix it.
It’s enough to make us ready to give up sometimes.
In this, the first of my few “Resolutions” posts for 2017, I want to change how I look at change, especially after reading some insight from my friend Thomas Sauer, based on some insight on a Medium post. Specifically, I want to think about what systems I can implement to get a little further down the road toward my goals. And here’s installment one.
My goal here:
Become Officer Judy Hopps
Have you seen Zootopia? If not, I want you to stop reading and go watch it. Seriously. My family loves this movie (my 3-year-old would love to tell you “You kiss me tomorrow, I bite your face off. Chau chau”- and you will love him for it). The primary thing I love about it is Judy Hopps. In this character, a country girl bunny who decides to become a big-city police officer, Disney created one of the strongest, bravest female characters in any of its movies.
Judy comes from a small town in which a bully fox tells her
You’ll never be more than just a stupid, carrot-farming, dumb bunny.
and her well-meaning parents teach her
It’s great to have dreams, just as long as you don’t believe in them much. If you don’t try anything new, you’ll never fail!
But Judy likes trying. So she gives it her all, and her all is a lot. She fails over and over and then succeeds at the police academy. And then, they make her a traffic cop, a “meter maid.”
Climbing back into her traffic cop cart after a tough day of getting insulted and yelled at, Judy bangs her head on the steering wheel and tells herself over and over,
I am a real cop. I am a real cop.
That’s my first system toward my goal:
Get a mantra.
I’m going to believe what I know, not what I’m told.
On the days when I am not implementing every strategy I know to be effective…
When the lesson plan falls flat…
When the kids are disengaged…
When someone in my email or on Twitter took something the wrong way and wants to claw at me about it…
I’m going to remind myself: What I’m doing today is not a reflection of who I am. I am a good teacher who is making mistakes but
I am a good teacher, I am, I am.
I might even bang my head against the wall while I do it.
Take the positive path.
Can I let you in on a secret? I am not a positive, sunshiny person. I have a sarcastic, critical disposition, and I don’t like it. I learn from being around people like Wendy Farabaugh for good reason: people who walk a positive path make it pleasant for me to stick around them, and then I learn more. Amazing!
I’m practicing this system in my personal life, in my family, in my teaching, and on my blog. When my kids melt down, we pause to be thankful for something in the situation. If Betsy Ten Boom can be thankful for fleas in a concentration camp, we can be thankful in anything.
I can think of several posts off the top of my head with overly critical and even inflammatory titles and comments, and I’ll actually be going back to those over the course of this year to edit them to walk a more positive path.
Live in forgiveness.
I’m sure you know of many relationships that burn to ashes over misunderstandings or even mistakes or bad behavior that people just can’t reconcile over. But as Seth Godin says, ask if maybe there was a misunderstanding, because
It’s a lot easier to ask than it is to go to all the trouble of breaking things.
If I offend you at a conference, please know that I often approach them with too much work to do and not enough time to do it, and so I am stressed and get very little sleep. Lack of sleep is a migraine trigger for me, and so I spend most conferences fighting a fog of fatigue, pain, and nausea. Two out of the only three times in my life I have thrown up from a migraine were at ACTFL conferences. Ask Meriwynn and Thomas and Laura. It’s not you. It’s me. Please forgive me.
If I offend you on Twitter, please know that I’m not talking to convince you I’m right; I’m talking to figure out what I need to change to land somewhere close to effective. Help me figure that out, and please forgive me.
My dad taught me that you don’t stop talking for fear of being wrong, because it’s by talking and listening that you figure out where you’re wrong and how to fix it. Thank you to those people – people like Karen Tharrington, Colleen Lee-Hayes, Laura Sexton, and Thomas Sauer specifically – who don’t make me feel like I should just shut up and go home.
And I will forgive before I go to all the trouble of breaking things. And either way, I will be at peace.
Last system for this goal:
Be brave and try something.
When Shakira as a gazelle sings her heart out that you should try everything, she doesn’t really mean to try everything, because who’s got the time and energy for that? The point of Judy Hopps is to be brave and try something, and when it turns out to be the wrong thing, abandon it and move on, and when it does work, rejoice and share it.
Weirdly, this was an epiphany takeaway for me, from a few lines in one song in a Disney animated film:
Nobody learns without getting it wrong.
I’ll keep on making those new mistakes.
I’ll keep on making them every day.
Did you catch that the mistakes are new?
This is what I want to leave you with at the beginning of this year, if you survived this wall of text and made it here, I leave you with my new determination: I am a good teacher, and it’s because I will keep making mistakes, but they will (mostly) be new ones, because the difference between a good teacher and a bad teacher is not whether or not there are mistakes, but whether the mistakes are new or old.
Go on. Try everything.