Why I #loveteaching

What do I love about teaching?  There’s an awfully big question to condense but an important one nonetheless.  Too often we, including myself, focus on what we need to differently in education, but the reality is we all teach for some reason.  There is something about teaching that makes me love teaching.  So just what is it?

I love my subject.  Writing and composition, literature, grammar–they all excite me.  Heck, I think diagramming sentences would be a fun party game.

I love interacting with my students.  I love hearing their insights into great pieces of literature.

I love watching a student who “gets it.”  My seniors are reading Beowulf and asking whether or not Beowulf is a hero.  Just the other day one of my students said wide eyed: “How can we really define hero, if the idea keeps changing over time?”  He got it.  It was a great moment.

I love when students come back and say they miss my class or that they really appreciated something I made them read or write.

There is a lot about teaching that I love on a day to day basis, but none of these is the real reason I love teaching.  I don’t love  teaching because of what it is; I love teaching because of what it can do. I’ve seen this quote from Mala Yousafzai around a few times, but it sort of sums up why I teach:

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I believe very strongly in the power of education.  The world has a lot of problems.  The thing that will solve this problems is appropriate education.  The future president is sitting in someone’s classroom right now.  The person who cures cancer could be sitting in a classroom right now.  The solution that brings world peace could be waiting in a classroom right now.

With education we can do great things.  Education matters.  That’s why I love teaching.

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What are teacher leaders?

My seniors are reading the George Orwell classic 1984 which spurred yesterday’s discussion of Newspeak.  As I was explaining the intricacies of newspeak, the conversation turned towards ways we, in modern society, try to redefine words and terms and how the powers that be really push certain definitions.  In thinking about that, I’ve noticed that we, as educators, are struggling to come to a common consensus on what a leader is.  Even more so, we can’t seem to adequately define “teacher leader.”

“Teacher leader” is one of those terms that is thrown around a lot, I find.  Schools like to brag about how they develop teacher leaders and use their teacher leaders.  A quick glance at just about any educational blog or periodical will  lead you some discussion of teacher leaders.

But what exactly do we mean when we say “teacher leader”?  Are schools giving this title to teachers who are actually empowered to make decisions and changes and lead other teachers to make their own decisions or changes?

Or are teacher leaders simply teachers who are given a few opportunities to do some in house PD on pre-approved topics that are completely in line with the administration’s desires and plans?  Are schools handing this title to teachers who don’t want to truly push the status quo?

If that is how schools are going to define “teacher leaders,” then I’m not all that interested.  That’s not leadership.

Find successes to appreciate

One of the aspects about education that has always drawn my interest is what leaders do to attract, keep, and encourage great teachers.  An obvious means of doing this relates to praise and appreciation, and school leaders everywhere are looking at how best to show their appreciation of teachers while pushing for changes.  This is actually a pretty delicate task for school leaders: on one hand praise teachers for doing things well, but on the other hand push for massive changes in curriculum and teaching.

To that end, I was recently reading a blog post (I really should save these things so I can link to them, but I never think of it in the moment) written by a principal encouraging teachers to share their success stories.  He argues that by sharing your stories about what works well in your classroom, he and his administrative team can more easily praise and appreciate you.  After all, how can he praise your great accomplishments if he doesn’t know about them?

In some ways our current evaluation system at my school is set up on this model.  If a teacher wishes to strive for “distinguished” on the evaluation tool, the teacher must be able to provide evidence.    We aren’t required or even expected to be distinguished, but it is an option that teachers can strive for if they want to.

I struggle with this.  To me, there is a certain sense of humility with education.  I am reluctant to share my success stories.  That’s not to say that I never do, but I don’t generally like to broadcast what I think went well.  And often times when other teachers tell their stories, it comes across to me as bragging.  Maybe this is just me.  A legitimate question I have is: do other teachers feel this way?

School leaders have to do a lot.  There is no doubt about that in my mind.  And I say this as somebody who has not had the responsibilities of a school leader; I have only participated through an internship which obviously limits my exposure.  That being said, isn’t part of being an educational leader looking for what is worthy of appreciation?  Praise is far more meaningful when the leader sees something praiseworthy and acts upon it instead of me saying “look at what I did!”  I know leaders have very full plates, but isn’t this worth their time?  To find, appreciate, and encourage good teaching?  Actively doing so could change the entire culture couldn’t it?

I’m not saying that teachers shouldn’t share their stories.  I’m not advocating that teachers take no responsibility for putting out their accomplishments, but don’t school leaders have a responsibility for finding those accomplishments as well?