Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Reinventing Self: We're All Works in Progress #SOLTuesday

Slice of Life happens every Tuesday and is sponsored by the fabulous team at Two Writing Teachers. Check out other slices here. 

7:33 a.m.

In less than half an hour, I'll find myself in an online interview for contract work with a startup in Boston. Zinkerz, the company with whom I'm interviewing, develops educational apps and seeks to capitalize on gamification.  If hired I'd work on content for an AP English app.  

That I have this interview this morning is something I could never have foreseen when I began teaching in 1981. Such is the nature of self-reinvention. 

How we teachers reinvent ourselves defines the way I view longevity in teaching and reflects the name I chose for this blog. 

In mid May, I had a plan for this summer: Join Teachers Write, work on the professional book(s) I've outlined the past few years, write an article about using children's picture books to teach seniors research, go on vacation with family, read and read some more, do home improvement projects, including purging my closet and home office of stuff. 

But my professional life took a sharp turn a week before school ended, so my plans changed. I'm still going on vacation with family, but I'm also preparing to teach AP English Literature and Composition next fall and attending an AP workshop in San Diego later this month. If all goes well in my interview, I may find myself on yet another new educational venture. 

Who would have thunk? Certainly not I. 

Professionally, I've had to reinvent myself many times to sustain a career that has lasted over thirty years. I spent over a decade in an education desert, metaphorically speaking. During that time, I never knew when I'd feel bludgeoned yet again by a bad boss. I worked hard to persevere, to overcome, to reinvent myself during that time. I applied to state and national programs that accepted me and validated both my professional and personal self. Of course, the Folger Shakespeare Library, as I've often written, is the most important among these. I earned NBPTS certification, I earned a MA degree. 

Opportunities to reinvent myself fed my soul with mana, the collegiality and validation necessary for teachers. 

8:55 a.m.

I just finished my interview with Sam and Eden at Zinkerz. Now I wait. Regardless of the outcome, I'm using this opportunity to think about gaming and learning in my classroom and the ways I can continue reinventing myself and the ways I guide student learning. 

I am, after all, a work in progress, and from time to time I need to shed the old teacher skin to make way for the new. 
Game on!

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."