After a particularly rough day in the classroom, I came home feeling defeated and questioning my ability to make a difference in the lives of my students. I picked up my copy of The Innovator’s Mindset, by George Couros, which states one important characteristic of being innovative is the process of reflection. George asks his readers, “Would you want to be a learner in your own classroom?” Gah! Would I? After this day I figured that I had to be honest and really mull this one over. Can I even begin to examine myself as a teacher with complete transparency?
Taking an honest look at the classroom environment, how the content is being taught, and relationships with students, is rough. I want to believe that I am “rockin” this teaching thing. But there sure are ups and downs … I can honestly say that my answer to the question changes with the tide, the lesson, the student interactions, the day. What a tough pill to swallow.
When reflecting upon moments that are filled with accomplishment, innovation, and pure joy of learning, I am pumped. Students are excited about learning. They are so focused and engaged, I have them eating out of the palm of my hand. During those times, I happily pat myself on the back. I walk about with a little hop in my step. Yes, today was the day!
But… there are those days that just don’t go the way I planned. Students are not engaged. They are discontent with something -- or someone, maybe even me -- throughout the day. There may be something happening at home that is impacting their time in the classroom. And let’s be honest, sometimes we just rub each other the wrong way. I get it, my kids don’t want to be in my room and if I were in their shoes, I probably wouldn’t either. What a terrible feeling. It is hard not to take those days personally. I have invested so much of myself into the classroom, lessons, and students, that when things go to pot I assume the blame. The messiah complex of teaching: “All of my students’ shortcomings happen because I failed!” I dropped the ball in some lesson. I didn’t thoroughly read through my curriculum. I … fill in the blank.
Ok, so what do I do? Reflect. As teachers, we have to look into the mirror. Our job is to remember who we are and what we look like, so that when we walk away we can remember. I am a teacher. I am teacher who is growing her craft. I am a teacher who has magnificent days and rough ones too. I am a teacher who cares. I am a teacher who will not give up the good fight to do what is best for students. I am a teacher who is human and makes mistakes; mistakes to learn and grow from. I am a teacher who is innovative, creative, and inspiring. I am a teacher who will not forget where I came from or where I am going. I am a teacher.
In The Innovator’s Mindset, George reminds us that, “Looking back is crucial to moving forward … to make connections, and again deepen our learning.” Reflection helps us look at our classroom, lesson plans, student progress, and professional growth with a critical eye that will only help make tomorrow better. Sometimes solutions come with a quick fix. Other times, we have to look to colleagues and collaborate to find an answer. Change cannot happen without going through the honest process of reflection.
I recently attended a professional development session where teachers were asked to draw a picture of what a quality educator looks like. I sat in the quieted room, completely brain-fried from a day of teaching and having a hard time thinking what that looks like. After a minute or two, thoughts began to flood my mind of teachers with exceptional traits needed order to make an impact inside and out of the classroom.
There have been many teachers of whom I reflect upon fondly. Many have challenged me, supported me, and have taught me many lessons. There are two teachers who rise above the rest when considering who made the largest impact on my life as a student.
One was my high school choir director. I had been encouraged by a fellow classmate to audition for choir. Having zero experience, I was pretty nervous. My teacher had high expectations for excellence challenged me to strive to do my best. I was exposed to a variety of music, culture, and talent that I would never had experienced if it had not been inside (and out) of that classroom. Through his encouragement and guidance, I gained confidence, learned how to prioritize my needs vs. desires, and try new things. Never once did I believe in myself or see myself in the manner in which he saw me. I sang, participated in choral events, auditioned and was cast in musicals, and more importantly, I found a passion within myself that would have remained untapped if it were not for this teacher in my life.
The second was one of my college professors. At good ol’ Adams State University, I entered a classroom as a freshman filled with excitement, apprehension, and fear of the unknown. When I walked into my Interrelations of the Arts class, my professor greeted me with a handshake, smile, and promptly addressed me by my last name, “Good afternoon, Miss Patrone.” He addressed everyone by their last names and did so in a manner that made me feel like an adult; I felt respected as a college student, leaving the old high school years behind. In his class, we explored the cross relation of art through music, plays, literature, etc. It was one of the most invigorating experiences of my undergraduate career. In that class I was able to be engaged in the conversation, share my ideas, and feel validated for thinking, sharing, and experiencing.
If I could bottle up the essence of these two teachers, I would. I would give it away to all teachers at the beginning of the year and include the note, “Use wisely.” The essence of these two teachers has impacted me so that I feel indebted to them for taking a chance on me, supporting me, and rooting for me. The best cheerleaders in my life, aside from my family, have been these two teachers. I would say that is an essential part of who I am now as an educator.
I strive to be a cheerleader for my students, to guide them, encourage them, and expose them to a variety of learning opportunities. I hope that my students will one day look upon me fondly. I hope that I will have not just done enough, but done more than enough. The reality is that I may not be that teacher for every student, but I sure can hope, I sure can try, and I sure can look upon my past educators who have that essence, quality and keep dreaming, keep trying, keep learning, and keep sharing my passion with my students and colleagues.
Mena T. Hill
Educator, Wife, Mother, Colorado Native