“What was the defining moment you decided to be a teacher?” #Youredustory

“What do I want to do?” I didn’t start off wanting to be a teacher. While I had teachers who inspired, invested, and impacted my life, it didn’t occur to me, especially while I was in school, that I would want to emulate their vocation. I wanted to be doing things – not teaching others how to do things. Yes, honestly, in my early years, that’s how I looked at it.

My list of dream job choices included running a theatre company, delivering the evening news, or writing a best selling novel. However, after I graduated from college, I found myself going in a different direction and re-asking “what do I want to do?” I went back to school to earn my teaching license, but it still felt like a back-up plan. My career path continued with twists and turns and while I did work with kids I didn’t teach in a classroom right away.

In fact, it was not until I had my own kids that I had the “defining moment.” I was standing in the parking lot at my kid’s school talking to the principal and feeling frustrated. The reasons for the frustration don’t matter as much as the epiphany that I had when I realized — I could do this teaching thing and I would be really good at it. I’m still not sure that it was the “right” inspiration, but it was the inspiration that I needed to make it happen. Reflecting on that, it’s easier to understand now who I am as a teacher.

I love the challenge. Bring on the kids that are hard to teach. No excuses – no blaming – let’s figure this thing out and get these kids reading, thinking, and passionate about learning. I never feel like I am staying behind teaching the stuff that other do. Instead I know that I’m doing really important stuff– stuff that’s not all that easy to do– stuff that really makes a difference. It’s not glamorous – honestly, hanging out with middle school kids is the opposite of glamorous, but it is, as it turns out, that answer to “what I want to do?”

My not-so-easy-to-write answer to, “WHY do I do it?” #Youredustory

“People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it” – Simon Sinek

Why do I do what I do?

First, what do I do…?

I am a teacher, and mother, and writer and it’s a long list, but within that there must be a something that defines me a bit.

What is it that those who cheer me and those that are frustrated with me would both say?

Perhaps it is that  – I challenge… good or bad – I’ll admit and own it – I challenge…

In my defense, I challenge myself as well. I’m willing to just try something. I experiment. I get in over my head and have to find my way out. I take on too much and I am always on a journey – never feeling like I’ve arrived.

Normally, it’s for want of company or at least understanding that I put out the challenge. “Have you read…?” “What if we looked at it another way…” “I used to think that too, but now I think…”

The words are out before I have time to swallow them back.

Why do I do that?

Wouldn’t it be easier to go along with the crowd? Deflect the blame… make excused… talk about what’s wrong with kids these days…

“Ouch”

I’ve been thinking about it and I can point to a DuFour conference and a Wormeli book, or two, that gave me a push. That graduate program in Instructional Leadership didn’t help. Let’s not even talk about the light bulb moment that comes with my son’s dyslexia…

The “why” does come from all of the above experiences, but if we are going to be totally honest it comes from being that kids in the classroom that never – ever – ever — passed a spelling test. I read every book I could get my hands on, I wrote essays for the fun of it, I was a hungry learner, but I had a glitch that I didn’t understand.

A gap?

A learning style?

A reason for people to laugh.

It was something that didn’t make bubble test easy. It stood in the way of being able to retrieve multiplication facts on a timed test. Most embarrassing – It made me a very frustrated student in a one and done, 20 words a week – we are moving on and you failed school system.

I hated that,

and now, I recognize the precarious a situation I was in. In some ways I hated school, I didn’t trust right away, and I could recognize a “got cha” grader from a mile away.

I didn’t know about learning styles or brain development back then. All I knew what that I was really smart, but not every teacher was interested in finding that out. If I challenged them as a student – they were likely to respond negatively. I can only imagine how kids who provide much more significant challenges feel every time they walk into a classroom. I am not willing to make them feel the way I did just because I am now in the position to do so.

I challenge. I do. I need to learn to be gentle. To respond from empathy. To honor people were they are. Yes, I’ll own that too. I’m working on it.

But if it helps to know why, if it inspires buy in, if it explains who I am… than I’ll go back to that raw feeling of failure and frustration that came every Friday afternoon when the teacher said, “take out a piece of loose leaf paper and number it from one to twenty.”

I don’t want to be the teacher that puts a sense of “no matter what I do, no matter how hard I try, I will never be successful at this” in the minds of my students.

“Ouch.” I know.

I feel like I can be someone different. Someone who inspires and supports. Someone who keeps hope alive and reminds that “we are just not there yet” – we teachers, we students, we community of learners…”

It’s my belief that we will to get there.

Together.

That answers… why I do it?

Define Learning in 100 Words…

Learning is the process of change or growth that comes from life experiences. Intelligence is malleable – what we focus on we will learn. The life long learning that shows up in mission statements is about creating and maintaining a positive attitude to learning. It’s a passion for learning that comes from deep within. Learning because the learner wants to: it is a deliberate and voluntary act. It’s a cycle of motivation, examination, reflection, and growth that continues beyond the classroom door. As a teacher, I create a culture that nurtures a learning mindset – acknowledging that I too am a learner.

Can I teach it?

Typically when I write, it’s because, for a moment at least, I’ve got it all figured out. An epiphany that would make Sean Hennessy impressed – a light bulb moment – whatever has been rolling around in my mind has worked itself out – I’ve got it.

That’s not the case today. Instead, today I’m full of questions.

To sort it all out, I thought I’d seek out some help. Let’s start with an anecdote about my own kids…

Anna is an over achiever. She has a ton of natural ability, and is super coachable. You can show her something one time and that’s it – she’s got it or she is going to figure it out. I don’t want to say things come easy for her because that would deny the hours of hard work and practice she puts into all the things she does – violin, sports, school. She really does work at it with discipline and focus. A good friend of ours love to say she sure has the, “can do attitude.” I’ve also been told she is “super coachable.”

The boys, on the other hand struggle. All the same things are not super easy for them.  They work… they work harder than Anna actually. However, “a natural” is not a word I’d use to describe either of them. They can frustrate the heck out of  coaches and teachers who inevitably compare them to their sister.

As a teacher, I know this situation is not unique. Within families and classrooms there are kids who are easy to teach or coach and then there are the ones that, despite a positive-growth mind don’t “get it” right away.

The danger I see, is that it’s easy to  give up on these kids. It’s easy to see their efforts as mediocrity and stop working with them. They are not failing – a B or C is acceptable – they kind-of get it, the slow and steady progress is good enough. Eventually, however, because they are not easy to teach or coach the message comes that they should think about quitting – soccer, piano lessons, school. Maybe not altogether quite, but certainly a request from the instructor for permission to officially lower the expectation.

I had a tennis coach speak with me just yesterday. “I’d like to set up a private lesson with you daughter.”

“Okay, that would be great. I’d love to set one up for my son as well.”

“We could do that,  but I really think your daughter is the one with the natural talent.”

What I wanted to say was, “Well then, she does not really need the private lesson does she? She’s easy to teach. She’s coachable. She gets it. I know – I’ve heard. How about taking a chance? How about growing as a coach and figuring it out with someone who takes a bit more effort?”

I didn’t say that. Instead I smiled.

I’ve been reading a lot about re-framing and looking at problems from different angles in order to uncover solutions that may not have been apparent upon first analysis. I’ve been reading about passion and teaching and how important it is to get kids jazzed up about what they are learning. I’ve also been letting this all roll around in my brain and I am left with questions…

Can I teach “drive?”

Can I teach  kids how to be more teachable? More coachable?

Can I challenge coaches to take what looks like an average kid and help him becomes an extraordinary kid?

Can the “B” kids become “A” kids? What would  it take? Could those same strategies help the “D” kids become “A” kids?

Where do I start? Who has an idea? I’m ready to figure it out…

5 Ways Parents Inspire Passionate Learning

A few weeks ago, my son had to complete the 3rd grade Habitat Project. He was assigned the desert and did a great job working within a small group to present the life cycle and plant growth in the desert. He was interested in the desert plants and I suggested creating a terrarium. We took advantage of a quiet spring break morning to make it happen.

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The experience inspired my top five ways parents inspire their passionate learners:

  1. Build on their interests or current projects – Ask questions and find out what’s going on in school, on the video game, or in that book they can’t put down. My oldest son asked to play the violin after  learning about Mozart in preschool. I still remember him telling me, “His music is really powerful stuff!” Seven years later, he is still playing and so are my other children.
  2. Find an expert – The world if filled with people passionate people who are willing to share their interests. We found that the local EAA club gives mini classes on aviation on Saturday mornings. After studying gliders at school, the boys loved taking a ride in a small aircraft. Even better, I found two volunteers to visit my classroom!
  3. Indulge their curiosity – My 4th grade daughter wanted to know about Shakespeare when her teacher made a joke about his poetry in class. I could not believe she sat through Romeo and Juliet on Netfix, but decided it was interest enough to plan a trip to Spring Green, WI to see a show at the
  4. Learn together – When my school developed a 1:1 iPad program, my own kids were the best teachers available to show me the potential. As I write now, there is a motion picture being produced in the backyard with my iPad and the neighbor kids. It’s amazing to see what they can do and even more exciting to find out what new things they are going to teach me.
  5. Have fun – My 3rd grader has struggled to become a fluent reader. Some of the best tools we found are things like shaving cream and marshmallows. That kinesthetic activity helps build and strengthen what he is learning.  Yes, it’s a little messy, but it’s worth it to see him focus and enjoy things like spelling words and multiplication facts.

I really like the following infographic from The Michigan Department Of Education because it shows how important parents are to the educational process. If you want to read more check out, “What Research Says About Parent Involvement in Children’s Education In Relation To Academic Achievement.”

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