Failure

I have never been good at dealing with failure.

Despite my love of learning and my penchant for creativity, I will be the first person to say that I do not fail well. I take things super hard and I dwell on failures and mistakes for quite a while. I let them fester and take root and bring me down. I start questioning my identity, my purpose, my actions. It’s a vicious cycle.

This past week, I had a bit of a rough day in school. Classroom management has never been a forte, and I felt like I was getting walked all over. By 4-6 year olds. Coupled with some concerns that I had had over Andy’s development, it made for a very emotional car ride home.

But I came to a realization today.

In parenting and teaching, I’ve been focusing so much on me. On my accomplishments, my abilities, my goals and dreams and plans. But what if I started with the kids? With their circles of experience? Instead of success being defined as them meeting this arbitrary goal that I set in my mind, what if I measured it according to the lasting improvement I saw in them over time? I bet it would take a whole lot of the pressure off while also freeing my mind up to actually do great work with them. Hmm…

An aside, THIS was a timely post about What Teachers Can Learn from Elon Musk.

Normal is overrated

Today, I spent the day in bed and indoors, sick and tired, trying my best to do a bit of work from home. Sickness is a funny thing – it makes you unable to perform functions that you normally wouldn’t think twice about, and naturally you find yourself craving that normalcy you once had. At the same time, having the free hours gave me the freedom to do things I tend to push to the backburner, like writing actual heartfelt emails, taking time for myself, and cleaning my house. Perhaps it’s unhealthy for us to be well all the time – these seasons of illness and health are necessary to remind us that productivity isn’t the be all and end all of life.

Also, because I was in bed all day, I was able to finish this month’s book club book – Lisa Genova’s Left Neglected. Even though I missed tonight’s book discussion, I’m glad I had a chance to read it. In a nutshell, it’s about a woman who was a high-powered executive in a Boston consulting firm who gets into a car accident, leaving her with this brain disorder called Left Neglect. She essentially has no recognition of things that are in her left field, and has little to no control over the left side of her body. The story documents her physical recovery as well as the emotional healing that happens in her life. “Normal is overrated” is something that stuck out to me from within the story – used to frame her understanding of how her child with ADHD was integrating into the classroom. It was a mindset that she also started to apply to her own situation, as she came to terms with how her life would continue to be affected by her disorder.

The whole idea made me think about how we treat our students and the way we approach education in general. Are we striving to make our students “normal” all the time, or are we doing what we can to accommodate for their needs? Are we giving them opportunity to excel in areas that they demonstrate an affinity to? As teachers, do we keep hoping for “normal” classrooms or “normal” students? Why do we want to be normal?

If you ask me, normal is overrated.

the future of public education

when you’re an educator, you want more than anything to see students succeed. you know in your heart that all students deserve the best education, and you do everything in your power to make that the case. unfortunately, it seems not all teachers in the field are providing a quality education.

growing up, you’ve probably had a handful of really good and really bad teachers scattered between the ones that were okay. but watching “waiting for superman” today, i witnessed first hand not just a few teachers, but a whole system that is defunct and in need of desperate change. more than anything, it was heartbreaking to see children who want to learn have to sit through something that reinforces to them that their ability to have an education is decided on nothing more than chance. i don’t know much about the charter school system, so i won’t make a judgment on what they do or do not do for students, but i do want to reflect a bit on public education as i understand it.

let’s start at the beginning – the “way it is” for public schooling. how does schooling work? well, it seems that you’re supposed to go to school every weekday (minus a few) for ten months of the year, learn something, and progress through a serious of stages with the hope of being better suited to contribute something to the world when you finish. great. so how do we do that? we bring these people in – qualified teachers – give them a document called the curriculum that tells them what to cover (in addition to a plethora of other booklets and papers), and hope they’ll produce something of value to present to the students coming into their classrooms. it all sounds simple enough, right? wrong.

when you’re a classroom teacher, you are asked to not only present information to students, it is implied that you will also develop the whole child, teach them transferable skills, be sensitive to their needs and their circumstances, work in partnership with their family and other staff, deal with the photocopier when it breaks down, use the newest educational lingo, attend a certain number of meetings, do supervision duty…oh, and you only have one year with your students. is this really the best way to go? so much of a teacher’s time is spent on things that often aren’t even related to teaching the students themselves. are we trying too hard to cram the profession full of extraneous things? how can we make the core of what we do effective while providing a relevant education for our students?

education is important, no questions asked. amongst other things, students need amazing teachers who are committed to providing that quality education through effective assessment and evaluation, working together, innovation in education, and clear and open communication. we need accountability in our schools, and perhaps that is where things get tricky. we have no direct, reliable and valid way of measuring how teachers are doing in their classrooms, and we need to keep in mind that we shouldn’t be encouraging teachers to all be the same. there are so many variables when it comes to education, and controlling it is not the way to bettering it, but we need to work towards improvement. our society is moving so quickly, and there is a huge need for innovation and for a competent, qualified workforce. beyond that, we also want communities that are active and thriving, where people are contributing positively and working together for the good of mankind.

at the end of the day, i’m both an optimist and a realist. i know change is happening, but it will take time. i constantly need to ask myself “what can i do to improve as a teacher, and what can i learn from those around me – both in and out of the field of education?” i’m all for dreaming big, and then figuring out the steps it will take to get there, and to stay there. hope you’ll join me.