Last semester I had the privilege of working with mostly freshman students at a local university in an Introduction to Educational Technology course. This was one of the very first education courses many of my students were taking, and I appreciated the perspective of a college student with next to no experience in education, but the drive to know as much as they could about strategies and best practices to implement in their future classrooms.
What I discovered in conversations with many of my students is that although they hadn’t much experience yet, they all had stories and the first stages of what will become their why as teachers.
Now you may be someone who knows your why, is grounded in it, and acts from that space more days than not. But you also could be someone who hasn’t had the time to consider what your why might be because, seriously, who’s got time for that right?!?
Whether you are a teacher who’s known your why for a decade or hasn’t yet discovered it, I would like to revisit a few common why stories of teachers, and even share a few personal stories so as to inspire you to know its importance and to own your why to the fullest. It really is one of the best things you can do in reaching for sustainability in your daily teaching life
After listening to this episode you’ll have a renewed sense of your foundation as an educator because of the common teacher-whys that I’ll share and the personal stories of educators finding and living their why in their classrooms.
I’ll even recommend a book I love on this topic and share an awesome opportunity I have coming up that all educators will want to take advantage of as we start the new year.
So let’s get to it.
From my experience both in the classroom, amongst various professional settings, and most recently working with pre-service teachers, I have found three common drivers for teachers, three common teacher-whys, and in this episode I’ll share each of them with you in hopes that you find a bit of yourself in them, or may find a new aspect of your why you hadn’t quite discovered yet.
As a pre-service teacher in college I had no clue what my why was. Even in the first few years of teaching I hadn’t the slightest idea because I had such severe tunnel vision. And I’m not looking back on myself and passing judgement here. I had to have blinders on out of sheer survival - I didn’t have time to focus on the why when I was drowning in the what.
And I’m betting you’ve felt this at some point in your career as well.
Only after months and even years of exhaustion, bordering on burn out did I discover how important it was to know my why, and then finally found it.
I’ve always been a get-down-to-business kinda gal. Call it my type A personality, but you give me a what (something to accomplish), and I’ll get after it only half understanding the why. I’m goal and achievement oriented, and although that’s not very fluffy, sunshine and unicorns when it comes to knowing your why, I’ve come to embrace my get-down-to-business nature in the classroom for a few reasons.
First, it models the goal setting and getting nature to students, helping them set and reach goals as well. I always loved motivating students to see the light at the end of the tunnel, to set some personal parameters for themselves, and help them kick butt mastering those standards and meeting their goals.
Second, it upholds expectations for students. Many times for students who haven’t been expected much of, and shows them what they can truly achieve in a certain amount of time, and THAT is empowering. It’s a safe space where expectations and rigor join with student relationships, and out comes this empowered, confident student who’s better for having taken your course. And I live for that as an educator.
Now maybe you’re not as cut throat as I am when it comes to accomplishing student goals and outcomes, and that’s ok, but you may feel just as passionately about this next common teacher why. And that is to reach the unreachable groups of students.
Your why might be that you’re a teacher because you want certain kids to know they are seen. You know what they are going through. You are there for them. And you are going to show compassion and grace, all while motivating, encouraging, and guiding them throughout their school career.
It could be any type or mix of students - marginalized students of any kind, whether that’s those living with mental illness, or a learning or cognitive disability. Or it’s students living in poverty, not knowing where they’re next meal comes from or having to work 8 hours after their school day to help support their family. Or maybe it’s children with unstable homes, those in the foster system, dealing with neglect or somehow challenged with a home life that is less than supportive of their education and growth. Or maybe your passion lies in closing achievement gaps, and having systemic impact in the field of education that impacts students and families for generations to come.
Any one of these, and more, are some of the most powerful and moving teacher-whys I’ve ever seen. And when I picture them, I have very specific people who come to mind - Mary Rose who shows her otherwise unlovable students more love than they’ve experienced in their lifetime in one school year while helping them reach goals on their IEP so they can transition to the next level. Or my husband, who wore a shirt and tie everyday in his classroom to show his students an example of a professional male role model. Or Jackie, who walked and breathed the message that even if you can’t read on-level, you have value, I see you.
The final common teacher-why I want to share with you is an equally powerful one as the previous two, and I would wager the most common, or at least plays a part in every teacher’s why regardless of what it looks like in the classroom.
And that is to Pay it Forward.
What I mean here is that, as teachers (and humans really), to some extent or another, we’ve all been on the other side of the desk; we’ve all been students who have had teachers. And because of the impact a particular teacher had on your life you now want to do the same for your students.
You have a clear picture in your mind of what that impact looks like because you’ve lived it. And if you feel like you don’t have a clear picture in your mind of that impact, I will challenge you by saying you probably do, deep down, and you just need to sit still and explore it a bit.
Think of the teacher who comes to mind that had an immense impact on your life. What were you going through at that point in your life? How did he or she make you feel? With what impression did you leave his/her classroom with most days of the week?
Now shift that to be more forward thinking. Do you see yourself in any of your students? If so, which students? What impact would you like to have on them, and what exactly does that look like?
Although you may never have put your why into words that include Paying it Forward, try to think of this common why as one that pays respect to the person who had an impact on you. We are all connected in a web, influencing each other, and if you can have influence on particular students in a way that teacher did for you, this world will be a better place.
No matter if you’ve nailed down your why or not, I’m betting you’re feeling some distance from it as it’s January of a new year at the time this episode will air, and you’re only half way through the school year. Yep, as far as you’ve come is as far as you have to go. You’re quite literally in the thick of it.
Well, much like I explained back in episode 26 of this podcast, if we don’t take a moment to visit the most important plate we’re spinning of the millions it feels like we have up in the air, most of them will fall. That is, if we revisit just a few, it will generate spin in most, if not all of your plates. That’s what revisiting your why will do.
And that is why I am inviting you and all of your teacher-friends to the first ever Sustainable Teacher Conference!! It will be a one-day, online conference this Saturday, January 15, starting at 10am Eastern Time, and it will be a chance to focus on not only your why, like we talked about in this episode, but a chance to revisit your most important spinning plates so that you generate spin for all your plates.
It’s called the Sustainable Teacher for a reason… we’ll have multiple sessions offered by Team Teach On A Mission that help you get the ultimate reset you need and take important steps toward making 2022 your most sustainable year yet.
And guess what, it’s only $10 to join us. Yep, you heard me! So head to the link in the description where you’re listening to get registered today, and invite all your teacher-friends too, and I’ll see you there.
I’ll see you same time, same place next week. Bye for now.