Tomorrow I walk into the fifth day of our school year and already, my head . . . reeling with understandings, learnings, knowings. So much with the knowings!
I just happened upon them and they got me thinking about what I’ve already learned as the teacher this year, here on the eve of Day 5.
In no particular order . . .
1. Get Congruent.
Already I’ve felt the stresses and anxieties one usually reserves for late October, just as the first quarter comes to a close. Or early April when one realizes, “Wait. There’s how many weeks of school left after spring break? How can this be?!”
I realized that a lot of these feelings come from my efforts to “plan ahead” in August: choosing readings, establishing due dates, determining assessment models.
I’m okay at winging it. I’m better when I’ve got a well plotted road map. I’m best when I can see the big picture and embrace the moments a few days at a time. Detailed advance plans work for a lot of folks, but it’s counter to my improvisational nature. I’ve fought against myself for three of these five days and got my feet under me last night. They felt fantastic on my classroom floor this morning.
2. Engage the PLN Like It’s Your Job (Because in Many Ways It Is).
I’ve an amazing and brilliant wife who helped me figure out the math for my evaluation system this year. At the same time, I can only go to her so many times to straighten me out. (Plus, I need her to help me with every non-school related that’s wrong with me. I can be a bit of a mess.)
What helped me realize my incongruence issues? Putting my thoughts out on Twitter and hearing the good vibes and constructive suggestions come flying back.
Find yourself a solid collection of people who share similar goals and ideals and start sharing, offering, building, and solving. For me, the folks on #dtk12chat, #makered, and #patue have become indispensable parts of my network. I’ve got colleagues who help me out of tight spots, best friends with whom I podcast, and Facebook groups I frequent as well.
It’s okay to ask for help.
3. Give as Much as You Take.
And on the flip side, offer insights, materials, tools, connections, experience and such. Be generous with your time and your money (if at all possible), your talents and your passion.
I did a few things this spring just because I thought it would make some other people feel good and yeah, because I wanted to feel good about helping other people feel good. Still reaping the rewards of those choices in these first five days — all of it completely intangible, all of it completely energizing.
I stood at one of the food court tables after dismissal today. Kids were heading for the second bus wave, half padded football players were headed toward the field, the cross country team was getting ready for a pre-practice meeting (and pre-team dinner menu planning — I stood there a while), and several of my students, many of my friends were milling about. We joked around. We shared some ideas. We talked about some big picture ideas. We talked about some awesome kids we share. We talked with our new assistant principal about how lunch shifts are going. We joked around some more. And then we went our separate ways — again, after I heard about the importance of not bringing too many desserts or drinks to C-X team dinner.
I found a conference room in our new administration offices with a nice view of our new front parking lot (our campus looks out over the western Maine mountains — even parking lots look gorgeous here) and got a little work done. Nothing major. Updated the class blog. Made a to-do list for the evening. Said hi to some passersby. Felt good just to breathe.
I feel better when I think things through for a spell and then express them in writing — especially in public. It forces me to prioritize, to consider what it is I really want to say, to consider the implications of those thoughts, and challenges my truthiness.
And while I’m going on year eleven of having that young adult novel completely plotted in my head with hardly a word on the page, I’ve found blogging here and expressing my ideas on Twitter have served a terrific purpose. Certainly I want to put my best food forward, and yes, I’d like to write a nightstand’s worth of books some day, I’m finding value in articulating the most brief of ideas for an audience.
And the more I do it, the more I find that balance between the goofy voices peppering my daily interactions with students and friends and the edu-literarian voice that crafts letters of recommendation and in-district book adoption notification forms. Practicing both those registers helps regain perspective and focus, makes me feel both human and professional, and fills me with a certain confidence: I really do know what the heck I’m talking about.
I can do this teaching thing again for another 55 days. At least.