Sunday, May 31, 2015

Teaching: It's All Personal

My friend Mari posted the following meme on her Facebook page: 
This meme reflects the personal nature of teaching for me and for many teachers in my PLC. I've contemplated the extent to which I take teaching personally, perhaps "too personally," as my principal told me a couple months ago. 

At the time, I didn't respond to her comment that I "take these things too personally sometimes." At the time, my emotions wouldn't allow me to utter a coherent thought. She had just finished telling me about two phone calls she had received from parents, and I took the calls as complaints, although upon reflection I'm not sure my principal interpreted them that way. 

Regardless, I took the calls personally because teaching is personal, both in terms of content and students. 

A few days passed, and I had the opportunity to discuss the conversation with my principal. We talked about her never taking anything about teaching personally and my taking it all personally, which I confessed I do. I wondered aloud if this has something to do with a difference between teaching English and teaching math, which she did prior to entering administration. 

Around the same time, I had a conversation with a colleague in my department about a parent call to the principal regarding one of her classes. We chatted about how we take these things personally and about how hurt we feel when a parent doesn't address a concern with us before calling or emailing an administrator. We feel most hurt when a call involves a student for whom we have already provided many accommodations. 

From other posts on social networking, I conclude that I'm not the only one who takes teaching and my relationship with students personally. As evidence, I cite

  • a recent invitation to view prom pictures Sarah MulhernGross posted from HTH. 
  • a blog post from Gary Anderson about #writenight at Fremd High School.
  • the many lessons and reflections about teaching Lee Ann Spillane posts on the Portable Teacher blog.
  • the way Beth Kephart calls her students "My Spectaculars" and writes about their beauty on her blog.
During Teacher Appreciation Week, Sarah Brown Wessling wrote a moving letter to her children about her life as a teacher and the way it compliments her love for her children. My favorite part of "A Letter to My Children: What It Means to be a Teacher" speaks about the personal nature of teaching: 

You need to know that teachers don't see their classrooms as places where you go to make rules and assign homework; rather, they see them as extensions of their kitchen tables and living rooms. We strive to make these places safe and nurturing, welcoming and challenging.

Our classrooms are personal spaces, our homes for 180 days a year, and since our students are also our kids, by extension we want them to feel at home in our classrooms. 

Perhaps the personal nature of teaching and our relationship with students comes from a special teacher in our own lives, perhaps from the personal nature of writing and sharing stories inherent in language arts instruction, perhaps from some other place. I shared these thoughts with my principal. And even though she says she never took things personally when she was in the classroom, I'm certain she cares deeply for our students, which I see in her eyes and hear in her words as we talk about the struggles some of our students face in their personal lives. 

The next time someone tells me I take teaching too personally, I'm going to say, "Thank you. For me, teaching is personal."

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