Thursday, April 9, 2015

Wait, but wasn't 1999 like, a year or two ago?

Today's April Blog-a-Day topic is, "What would you say to your beginning teacher-self?" The thing is, and tell me if this isn't true for you, too, time is moving faster every year for me. I'm sure it's a problem of perception, the last ten years are less than a quarter of my life. So does that mean that ten years back for me feels like two years back for a third grader? It sure feels that way.

Anyway, I've been in the classroom for 16ish years now. I say ish because I started mid-year at a charter school when one of their teachers left at the Christmas break. I had been subbing for a couple years before that, but January 1999 is really the beginning of when I was teaching teaching.

When I started out as a little baby teacher, the world was so different, and yet, it was very much the same for me. I was teaching at Summit Academy in southeast Michigan, and the setup was brand new to me. We had two teachers, two parapros, and 47 kids in one 4th/5th grade classroom. We had a bank of fourteen computers and a decent internet connection.

I knew nothing at the time. I was the math and social studies teacher in our classroom, and while we had lists of standards, we were all new, and I was making a lot of it up as I went along. The thing is, though, sometimes I think I'm closer to where I started than I've been in an awfully long time.

I've heard people say that when you throw your first pot on a pottery wheel, it's common for people to do surprisingly well. Once people start learning, though, it gets much harder before it ever goes that easily again. The term beginner's luck comes to mind.

I think there's a sort of freedom that comes from having absolutely no idea what you're doing. You can try daring things because you don't know better, and during those first years at Summit Academy, we did some incredibly cool stuff. If I met someone today doing the things I was doing then, I'd think, "What an awesome teacher." I'm sure I left a lot of things out, but overall, there was a lot of good. There was also a lot of inventing the wheel each day.

Then what happens? You learn what you're supposed to do. Conscientiousness slips in. You worry about what your co-workers are doing, are you doing enough? Your - at least my - teaching gets a lot less cool in the process. And that killed me inside. It's discouraging to know what you can do, and not doing it.

So if 2015 me met 1999 me today, what would I tell him? The number one thing would be to try and hang on the awesome things. Yes, you're going to be working on serious things, yes, you've been doing some things wrong. Dirty secret? There are some things you'll always do wrong. Forever. Don't beat yourself up for it, and don't let it take away from setting up experiences and opportunities for your students to be great.

If I met a 2015 doppelganger of young me, my advice would be a little different. This year, the power of my PLN has radically changed my teaching. By being a connected teacher on Twitter, and through EdCamps, I've gained so much confidence to let my ideas grow, to try, to take risks, and to trust my instincts. Twitter and EdCamps have both been around for a while, but I'm in this year, and it has made all the difference. So young me's of today? Get connected. Connect yourself, connect your class, get global. You'll grow so much faster because of it!

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