Chapter 4, Listen to Yourself
Meenoo Rami starts this chapter off perfectly, with a quote from one of my favorite authors, Brene Brown, about human engagement and creativity. She quotes, “When learning and working are dehumanized- when you no longer see us and no longer encourage our daring, or when you only see what we produce or how we perform- we disengage and turn away from the very things that the world needs from us: our talents, our ideas, and our passion.” As this course discusses teacher burnout and ways to prevent it I think it’s important that we as educators really spend time evaluating our talents and ideas, and whether or not we’re fully putting forth our authentic self in the classroom. When we come to the classroom in auto pilot, and pull out the same material year after year, simply just to “plow through” that’s exactly when we begin to hurt ourselves and others. The value that we give to the students is diminished when we aren’t our true selves! “So what is it we can bring to the classroom?” one may ask. The answer is, everything! As educators we are talented people, often well-rounded in literature, or have backgrounds in art history or sports. Heck, we’ve got the whole summer off and many of us have a second job or hobby we turn to for the two months of the year we have some free time in our lives. I compete in triathlons, and spend summer days logging hours and hours of swimming, biking, and running to train for the Ironman triathlon. If I don’t teach through this lens, my students aren’t seeing my true self. As teachers, there is so much power in bringing the greatness of all that you know into the four walls of the classroom.
Meenoo talks about fear, and how teachers become fear based, and mask true feelings and identity. As teachers, we must be risk-takers, and as Brene Brown says we must dare greatly! Teaching from fear hinders the ability to act according to values that guide our teaching. I think a lot of the fear comes from administration, and the pressure to be successful. In my building a shift happened when the state changed the way we are evaluated. It seems as though any creativity that my colleagues and I once had became diminished once we knew that the PSSA scores would have such an impact on our teacher score as well. It quickly became, “teach to the test,” since there was x amount of material to fit into six months. I think once there is talk of this fear, the vibe changes quickly and unfortunately the children are the ones who suffer from the lack of creativity.
I connect with the fear based part of Meenoo’s book, as currently I am in the graduate program at Arcadia University and have faced some fears brining what I’m learning into my classroom. I’m taking STEM courses, and this past year I tried to integrate as much STEM into my fourth grade classroom as possible. My other fourth grade teammates gave me a bit of difficulty when I engaged my class in certain projects, partly out of jealousy, and partly from a creativity stand point. They feared that if things went well with teaching from the STEM methodology that over time they’d have to make a switch, too. Teachers who have been around a long time (let’s face it), fear transitions! My teammates wanted us all to be doing the same thing. Instead, I wanted to take risks, and try on what I was learning about in class. I laughed when I read the part of Meeno’s book about the amount of “extra work” she referred to, as this extra work can certainly be a killer of motivation. It’s easier to just grab the materials already given to us by the school district and go on with the boring old science kit. Instead, though, going the extra mile had tremendous effects in my classroom. My kids loved working on the engineering projects I did with them this year. I am motivated to continue to bring this energy and style into my classroom again next year. I strive to teach my kids, too, that perfection is NOT the goal. STEM has helped me convey this message to kids, as often when we engineer something it won’t work the first or second time around- this is perfect, since each time we fail creates a learning experience! I am lucky that my administration is very open to creative ways of teaching. In “Thrive,” we read about the fourth grade teacher in Austin, TX who was allowed to only teach from test materials, exclusively. Teaching test preparation all day long is not only boring for the kids, but frustrating for the teacher. This district is forcing teachers to lose their authentic self, and forcing teachers to do the exact opposite of empower their students!! Overall, it’s important to continue to turn back to the essential goal, which is to determine how we can align our teaching with our values. Seeking our selfhood in our classroom can be done, as long as we continue to be open to this important concept.
Reading about pre-packaged curriculum and the regular need to make changes really resonated with me. For this course, one of the requirements is to take a pre-packaged curriculum and to “listen to ourselves” as we create a more meaningful experience for the students. I am currently working on this project, and am thinking of ways to bring my students and my community together as a whole. Bridging the gap between the community and classroom is important to me. This past year I tried to do a better job at bringing people into my class, and one of the fun things I did was bring a seeing-eye dog trainer into our room during a week-long literature study that was about disabilities. I know if I bring community into our school this will make it easier for the kids to turn to their community members to enhance their education. For example, in my current plan I’m writing to revamp my Ecosystems unit I have a tie in with community and classroom. My students will be much more likely to succeed with this piece if they have seen interaction happening in the existing classroom. Once they see all the fantastic things the community has to offer, they’ll be motivated to work together. Certainly, this requires more work than just reading the ordinary textbook but in the end it brings authenticity and value to the classroom.
This chapter also motivated me to talk to my own students more about being a lifelong learner. In my own life I model curiosity, and lifelong learning, and I think it’s important for my students to hear about grad school, including the challenges I face. It’s important that we as teachers don’t make ourselves the center, but rather share with the kids that we are real people. I want my kids to know that things don’t come easy to me, and that when I was their age I struggled with reading comprehension. I talk to my students a lot about when I was in fourth grade, and the things that I now know that I didn’t know then in order to be successful. This thought brought me back to a concept we spent a lot of time discussing during my yoga teacher training. The idea of teaching with the question in mind of “who is this for?” If I am talking in front of my yoga class just to talk, well it’s probably about me. If I play my favorite song, it’s probably for me. This is the same in my classroom at school. If I dig out the old box of science materials and do the same lesson as every other year to teach about sustainability in ecosystems, well that style of teaching is absolutely about me! The answer should rarely, if ever, be about me in my classroom. My job is to make my students the center of learning, to empower them and enrich their education with creativity. Meenoo also talks about, in chapter 4, the importance of sharing student work. When kids know their work will be shared, they will be much more likely to edit for mistakes and go the extra mile to make it as clear as possible. When students share their work to an authentic audience, they are given the opportunity to overcome fears, which ties in perfectly to the fears that often hold teachers back from taking risks.
“So, this all sounds great but now what,” one may ask. Well, if you’re reading this you are already on your way to a bigger and better self. Reading Blogs, like this one, and continuing to read books, journals, and talking to your colleagues is a fantastic way to show up big. As we read about a few weeks ago, avoid isolating yourself. Avoid sitting in your room during all your prep periods and instead go look around. Open your eyes to the opportunities either already existing in your school, or potential areas to bring opportunities. Share with your peers. Encourage mentorships, and work with your mentor about ways to bring your ideas into the classroom. Most importantly, though, “Listen to Yourself.” We are in tune enough with our style of teaching, and our classroom to know when we need to make changes. Don’t think about it- just listen to your gut and do it. Dare greatly! Remember, that we as teachers, have the power to bring joy and love into our classroom, and have the power to give students the opportunity to THRIVE! A big thanks goes out to Meenoo Rami for brining awareness to our identity, and for reminding us that retreating from our real voice ultimately hurts our children. Listening to yourself is the key to success!