Friday, July 7, 2017

Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth (Aaron Hogan)

What Myths Stop You From Thriving?

Dear Readers,

As soon as I read the first paragraph I was hooked. 

Myth #1: Teaching Expectations

"One of the most harmful myths education has come to accept is that the best teachers never or  rarely have behavior problems in their classrooms."

I teach middle school and a few years ago I had an "aha" moment. I made the assumption that my students should know this or should know that. It finally clicked, had I ever talked about certain expectations? How would they know if we did not discuss them? 

Aaron's recommendation to look at behavioral expectations as we would academics is exactly what we need to hear!  Adults should never assume anything about students. Each student, class, school or district is special and unique in their own way. 

A few questions I pose to students include:

  • What does a positive and productive learning environment look and sound like?
  • How are we contributing to our expectations of a positive learning environment?
  • What are we doing well? What do we need to change?
  • What am I doing well? What do I need to change?
  • What are our action steps to create that environment?

If we spend time reviewing or creating expectations with students, the academics will follow. In addition, if we want students to be leaders in the classroom, a solid foundation of expectations also allows for them to be the instructors of their own learning. The expectations are referred to whether I am doing the teaching or peers are.

Myth #2: Hook Your Students

"Compliance should never be our main goal. Engagement is the result of deliberate design, rapport, developed with students over time, and in an intentional search for inclusive classroom community."

When I first started teaching, it was my misconception that the teacher was the holder of the knowledge. I also think part of me thought if I was the instructor, it would help with behavioral expectations. At one time, I thought the ideal classroom was quiet and orderly.

You would never guess that about me now. In fact, I thrive as a teacher when my students are leading the class, there is constant movement and the room is filled with conversations. As my students and I discussed identity, I admitted that I saw myself as more of a learner than teacher, which they were surprised to hear!

In this chapter, the idea of "invisible people" is extremely powerful! There will always be students who will connect to us through our classroom, our personality, our interests or our instruction. We must never forget those students who struggle to fit in. Aaron reminds us to connect with those students, look for those students and give them the attention they need and deserve.

Myth #3: Reject Isolation

"The more I think about it, the more I believe our legacy as educators lies in building community over time."

In August 2014 I was introduced to Twitter. I hated it. I thought it was boring, I had no idea how to navigate it or connect with people and the only reason I even joined was because a friend set up the account and started my "following" for me. Fastfoward 3 years later and I cannot imagine life without it. I love what Aaron says about internet friends. I have made friends across the world that would never have been possible!

During the summer of 2016 I was introduced to Voxer by an "internet friend". Again, I was not super interested. Now, I cannot imagine life without it! While I struggle to participate in chats, I absolutely love the 1:1 conversations. There really is something special and personal about a person's voice.

As I read the story about being a 1st year teacher, it made me stop and reflect. I am probably considered one of the veteran teachers in years of experience. There are times when I need to stop and remind myself that teachers new to the profession need my patience, guidance and understanding. It is what I would have wanted as I started my career.

Myth #4: Imagine it Better

"Teachers thrive when they dream big with the ways they can upset the status quo and reimagine what's possible for their students."

As a Language & Literature teacher, I adore using novels, short stories or articles to teach and model perspective, empathy and tackle tough issues. It is imperative that students consider ideas different from their own to make informed decisions. As we proceed through the school year, I hear changes in their thinking and feeling towards different characters or situations as they become more empathetic.

In life, we are faced with triumphs and traumas, good and bad. I try to believe that people make the best decisions they can, in the moment, with the information they know at the time. Humans can be incredibly resilient. We have to model and teach our students strategies to pull from in the case of adversity.

For as long as I can remember I have asked questions. Sometimes they are welcomed and other times they are not. I encourage students to always ask what they are thinking and I will always do my best to answer them. I am not afraid to tackle tough conversations and will admit if I need to do some research to obtain an answer. 

Sometimes I hang a parking lot in the classroom for students to just jot down whatever is on their mind, related to class or not. It has actually been a fun way to build connections. I was once asked what kind of pizza I liked.

Myth #5: Value Vulnerability

"Mistakes are inevitable. We must be willing to own them and use them as the point of departure for productive growth."

It can be so difficult to admit when we need help. At one time I had such high expectations of myself, I was setting myself up for failure from the beginning. There was no way I could meet my demands I was placing on myself. It took a while, but gradually I realized I do not expect others to be perfect so why was I expecting the impossible of myself?

Over the past few years I have grown so much as an individual, as an educator and have really put realistic boundaries on myself. I no longer believe in perfection as the end goal, but rather focus on the journey and learning that takes place.

Myth #6: Everyday Every Day

"We don't have to offer some grand gesture to students to make our interactions memorable and meaningful. That's what kids deserve. To be valued. To be loved. To be known."

Students are going to remember the "non-teaching" moments they shared with us. I think about teaching my 7th graders how to wrap a box, doing Carpool Karaoke with my 1st period class or filling bean bag chairs outside on a windy day. I think about the day a student dropped a large hot chocolate in front of a classroom where teaching was happening and running back and forth to get paper towels, laughing all the way. I hope my students remember those days as fondly as I do. That is where we build relationships and make connections.

I was introduced to ANCHOR conversations a couple of years ago by Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf. I use the Anchors of Appreciation frequently with my students. I find it is a great way to privately acknowledge what I appreciate about them and their contribution to our classroom community. This past year, I had students create a system for handing them out to each other. While not perfect, it gave us a place to work from heading into this next school year.

My Hope For You

"I'm inspired by your dedication and honored to serve students alongside you."

A beautiful ending to a beautifully written book. Thank you Aaron for your honesty, vulnerability and inspiration. I thoroughly enjoyed every word!