In 2014 I took a leap of faith at a sorely needed time. Last year marked my 10th in the classroom. Even though I’ve always worked hard and tried new things, I began to feel complacent. I was approaching that time in my career when I it is easy to get comfortable, mail it in, and put the next 20 years on cruise control.
So what happened? I started a podcast, hopped on Twitter for the first time, and attended my first EdCamp. It resulted in the most transformational year of my career. My podcast went to no.1 in its category, I started #APLitChat and developed a community around it, and I connected with educators that inspire me online and in person. All these things I did outside the classroom paid off when I was with my students. My lesson plans were more audacious and my rapport with students deepened. I had new life and felt in command.
Then my test scores came. After four straight years of major gains, they took a dip in the shallow pool. It humbled me. Was it a weaker class? Was the test different? Was I losing focus doing so much outside of school? I don’t know if I’ll ever know the answer, education is too complicated to pin down on one reason, especially when 180 days are boiled down to three hours.
It is a New Year, and it is time to make 2015 even better than the last one.
Here’s what I want to do in the next 12 months, and I’m inviting you to share five goals below. Then hop on Twitter and connect with me so that we can hold each other accountable and tease out what we’ve learned.
1. Honor My Curiosities
Jeff Charbonneau, the 2014 National Teacher of the Year, said on my podcast that we should be really interesting people outside of the classroom, pursuing our hobbies and passions, so that we can be really interesting people for our students. Writing, design, and travel are all fascinations of mine, but all too often I find excuses not to explore them. I’m too tired. There’s not enough time. Where’s the money to do it? It is all resistance stopping me from being a more compelling to my students. I can be so much more than their teacher, I can be fascinating because I’m living my discipline, not just teaching it.
2. Break Bread with Colleagues
Through my podcast and Twitter chats I have learned by connecting with teachers from other disciplines and grade levels across the country. Yet, within my own building I tend to stay within my department and small circle of friends. This year, I hope to better know the unknowns of my building, those that share the same hallways, copiers, and bright minds with me. I want to understand them better, and them me by sharing lunch out once a month with a colleague so we can share the deliciousness of life.
3. Reflect on the Failures
Earlier in my career, I thought master teachers were virtuosos, performing brilliant lessons to enthralled students. That’s no one’s reality. Education is messy. Kids fail to read. They write two sentences when you want a paragraph. And there I am, returning papers a week later and making copies the period before, flying by the seat of my pants. But if I spend 3-5 minutes at the end of each day reflecting on what worked and what didn’t, I’m more likely to be success the next day.
4. Focus on Learning Experiences over Learning Data
I am intrigued by the tension that exists between testing and curriculum. Has the pressure pinned us into a corner where we spend more time worrying about numbers on a spreadsheet than we do the well-being of a child? Judging by the time spent in my department and faculty meetings, the pendulum might have swung too far. Diane Ravitch wrote in The Death and Life of the Great American School System, “Our schools will not improve if we value only what tests measure. The tests we have now provide useful information about students' progress in reading and mathematics, but they cannot measure what matters most in education....What is tested may ultimately be less important that what is untested.”
Teaching is a series of dynamic interactions between a teacher -- someone with knowledge of a topic and the wisdom to delivery it effectively -- and a student -- someone that needs to gain that knowledge and believe in its value. It is a human interaction. It is an exchange of belief, value, and knowledge. It is not a point on a line chart. I don’t want to lose sight of that.
5. Thrive on the Enormity of the ChallengeThe challenge of teaching is a creative one. It is a challenge of delivery, finding the means to convey knowledge in the most impressionable ways. The learning should be memorable. It should last. I want to take enormous risks in my lessons, ones that defy the traditions of a lesson to see if each day can be a perfectly imperfect masterpiece.
This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.