Should I quit teaching?
Updated: Dec 14, 2018
Some days everything just clicks and I feel like I'm Super Teacher. My students are engaged in real world, problem solving, project based learning. They're empowered to solve world problems that don't exist yet. Each student controls their learning environment, pace, content, and outcome. I even empathetically connect with every student to let them know they are valued and appreciated. All this, all day.
Other days, I am more like Loser Teacher. No matter how I present it, the most basic content alludes my students. There is never enough time in the day. I run out of supplies mid-activity. The copier breaks down. My students act like they just ate 2 lbs of sugar and drank a triple latte before walking into my classroom. It's as if my class is a full train running out of control, and I’m hanging onto the railing at the back of the caboose. Or better yet, I’m lying on the track getting run over by every car on the train.
This past fall I had the opportunity to record a podcast with NWEA (see link at the bottom) describing my first experience as Loser Teacher and the first time I thought, "Should I quit teaching?". Those four words have crossed my mind several times during my teaching career. Every time, I find myself reflecting on what brings me to ask that question.
This particular time, the answer wasn't pay, or respect, or leadership opportunities, or job monotony, all of which have been the answer at one point or another. But what led me to this crisis was how I was teaching. You see, I taught the way I had been taught: lecture, lab, and test. Repeat. And looking back, it was just about as boring as it sounds. This style wasn't what the students wanted or needed, and it really isn't who I am as a teacher. Consequently, my room spiraled out of control. The train had a permanent station in my room!
It took courage for me to embrace the fact that I was causing the issue and to change what wasn't working. It didn't happen instantaneously like Cinderella or Pinocchio's transformations, but rather was a decision that nudged me in the right direction for the rest of my career: continuous reflection, continuous improvement. One year I added projects. The year after I focused on improving all my labs. Another year I concentrated on adding more collaboration. Pairing these and other areas with the random lessons that needed enhanced or the new idea that came to me the night before, over time I was able to develop a robust curriculum and instruction that engaged and challenged my students.
On the other side of the coin, I became intentional about getting to know my students better. When I found out John's dad was an alcoholic or Brittany's mom abandoned her family, I better understood the behaviors I was seeing in my classroom. I wanted my room to be a safe place where my students could come and have fun while learning. This became as much a priority as improving my instruction.
Being Super Teacher doesn't mean everything goes perfectly in our classrooms. Some days in the classroom are gold. Other days we feel run over. These ups and downs used to bother me. But I'm realizing more and more that most days are somewhere in the middle. We all come into the classroom with our own baggage, but that's where the connections happen. The red, blinking light of doom may go off on my phone several times in one day, but my students leave with a greater understanding of the world around them. When I get discouraged, I have to constantly remind myself that change doesn’t happen overnight. But, improving my classroom is a choice that happens every moment of every day over the long haul.
Continuous reflection; Continuous Improvement.