I initially wrote this post four years ago but rediscovered it this morning as I started to dream about the year ahead. It is not surprising that it still rang true to me as the past few years teaching during COVID have placed even more expectations on the type of experiences we create with and for students. Perhaps you feel the pressure too?
For twelve years I have been sharing my thoughts on this blog.
Twelve years of good.
Twelve years of not-so-good.
Twelve years of let’s try this and see how it goes.
Twelve years of let’s figure it out together. Let’s change it. Let’s disrupt. Let’s center kids and the voices who have been ignored for so long.
Twelve years of simply needing to get it out so that my brain could process whatever it was and move on.
So many years and words documenting trying to be more than I am as a teacher. Of living, breathing education. Of late nights and early mornings trying to come up with a new idea, a twist on an old idea, of more pathways, of centering kids in new ways so they can hopefully feel safe, find value, and be seen. The years have flown by even as the days sometimes have dragged by. I have loved it for so long but the past few years, now more than ever, the pressure to be not just a teacher but to be a life-changing one, to handle everything thrust at us with grace, ease, and innovation, has become an insurmountable mountain of expectation that is crushing us all. To not just have great lessons but also make it look easy for those watching has become the norm rather than the exception.
And the pressure builds as we take on the responsibility not just to help them understand, but to create spaces that can compete with everything else that pulls kids in. So what no one ever told me before I became a teacher was how there would be this unbelievable pressure to be an amazing teacher. To be the kind of teacher that truly changes lives. To create the type of environment that students cannot wait to be a part of. What no one ever told me before I became a teacher was how much social media would lead me to believe that I was doing it all wrong, most of the time, because my students are not always those students that love school.
It is fed by the statements that surround us…
“If they didn’t have to be there, would they really show up?”
“Students should be running into your classroom not running away…”
“If they don’t love it, then you are doing it wrong…”
“If they are on their phone, your lessons must not be engaging enough…”
And while I get the sentiment behind these statements, I also think of the danger of them. The unattainable versions of reality that really none of us can ever live up to. These notions of creating such over-the-top unforgettable classroom experiences that make kids want to run into our schools, choosing us and our classroom above everything else. Every. Single. Day. Who can live up to that?
For fourteen and a half years, I have chased the mirage of being a perfect teacher as the markers continually move. Of trying to be the type of teacher that created those types of experiences that would make students flock to our classroom. That would make students want to come to school. And while there have been days where it almost felt like that, I have never fully achieved it, not for every child, because let’s face it, it is a completely unrealistic notion. And it is a notion that is driving teachers to feel as if no matter what they do, no matter how hard they work, they will never be enough. They will always be lacking. How exhausting and debilitating is that?
So I am going to give it to you real straight because that’s what I always try to do; most of my 7th graders would probably rather hang out with each other than walk through our door. Most of my 7th graders would not run into our classroom if given the choice. They would probably rather sleep, watch Youtube, make TikToks, or simply hang out.
And I am okay with that.
Because that’s normal child development. Because it is okay for our classroom to be low on their choice of experiences. Because it is okay for our classroom to not be something they think about when not in school. Because it is okay for kids to not be excited about the idea of going to school.
What is not okay is for them to hate it once they do get in our rooms.
There is a big difference.
And so that is where we do the work. To create experiences that make students want to engage within our learning. That makes students feel as if they matter once they are there. That makes the time fly, the minutes pass until the next class, where they can hopefully experience that again.
So while most of my students would probably not volunteer to come to our classroom, once they are there, many of them love it. Many of them love what we do, who we are, and how we grow. Many of them would choose to stay once there. And to me, that is what matters.
So the next time you hear someone state, “But would they choose to come?” It’s okay to say, “Probably not” and not feel like a horrible teacher because what you realized is that the question was wrong all along, not you. Because what you realized is that you can teach your heart out and still have a hard time competing with everything that surrounds young people these days. Because what you realized is that the question should have been, “If given the choice would they choose to stay?”
And to that I can honestly answer, “Yes, most of the time I think they would…”. And if my answer is no, then my follow-up question is, “What needs to change?”
It turns out that perhaps I never needed to be a perfect teacher, I just needed to be real.
I am excited to be heading out on the road again to be with other educators in-district or at conferences, while continuing my virtual consulting and speaking as well. If you would like me to be a part of your professional development, please reach out. I am here to help. For a lot more posts, resources, live and recorded professional development, please join my Patreon community where most of my sharing takes place these days.