I woke up this morning, as I do many mornings, full of doubt about what I do in the classroom. As a teacher who is trying to shift the narrative of teaching, to improve the cultures of learning, to accelerate change and improvement in my classroom and also my school, I often assume a Sysiphean mindset. I often feel like I’m not getting anywhere, so why keep trying? (Of course, this is all while I’m teaching gifted and honors level students. I’ve little reason to complain.)
And, as I often do at 4:30 in the morning, I shared my micro crisis with my wife.
Before I go into the answer she gave me, a bit of context: My wife was a full-time teacher in Philadelphia until 2004. Before that, she taught in Yuma, Arizona, and New Jersey. She stayed home for the next 10 years to help raise our three children. For the past 4 years she has worked as a reading intervention strategist for our local school district, building new skills and relationships with some of the youngest learners in the district (K–3rd grade). While she has taught students from K–8th grade in her career, she readily admits that in her heart, she is a Kindergarten teacher.
And so, last week, when she found out the district was interviewing for full-time Kindergarten teachers, she was elated to find her resume had been chosen for an interview. With the help of a family friend and some quick research, she’d soon boned up on her interviewing skills, the state standards for just about everything Kindergarten, and the basic structure for our districts roll out of this new, full-day Kindergarten program.
The interview was yesterday, and to hear her tell it, she nailed every question…every question except one. She found herself rambling in her answer and couldn’t bring herself back to a central point. And so, while successful in most ways, and possessed of several years working with Kindergarten students in the district, she felt defeated.
It was with this experience so fresh in her heart that my wife crafted a response to my early-morning lament that so much of my professional life seems like trial and error.
“You know, it is a privilege to be able to teach that way, to enter the classroom with a community ready to try something, and to be able to fail together and learn from the experience.” She paused. “But most teachers are filled with the pressures to meet adequate yearly progress or some other state standard, or they don’t have their own classrooms at all. And these are good teachers, teachers who love children and believe they can make a difference. So don’t you go getting all ‘down’ on me with your worries about ‘trial and error.’ It is a privilege for you.”
And she’s right. I am privileged. Oh, I worked for it. I was great at the game of school, but I don’t play that game anymore because the world is different. So as I drove into school today, thinking about this conversation, I turned to the work of my Twitter friend, @montesyrie. Each morning he writes a message to his students. Something from the heart, something about gratitude, the honest outcomes of doing good works together. I vowed to start the same for my students. Below is my first message. I thank you, @montesyrie, for your huge heart and the audacity with which you live your professional and (now that you’re climbing trees) your personal life.
But mostly, I thank my wife for helping me, as she always does, to see beyond myself, and my own opinions to the larger and more important truths about what it means to teach, to be a teacher, and to recognize the great responsibility that comes with the privilege I have.