Teaching, Unbound

EdTech Conference Thoughts

Teachers with tech tools are like nifflers with shiny things. We see them and we have to have them. Kept to a manageable minimum, tech tools are innocuous, but like our beastly counterpart, we keep stuffing them into our pouches until they’re spilling out and tripping up our best practices in the classroom.

I used to be a niffler, and to some extent, I still am. I love tech tools: the bells and whistles and lights shining in my eyes like Christmas lights or fireworks. I get wrapped up in the buzz of “What’s new? What’s hot? What’s now?”. But something happened to me about 4 years ago. I failed as a teacher. I failed as an instructional coach, and I failed as a human being. None of the tools I had collected saved me from that failure

Without going into the soul-bearing aspects of that failure, I came out on the other side understanding that if I were going to be recognized for anything it would need to be as a consummate educator dedicated to best practices and to the advocacy of equitable access for students. I came out on the other side understanding it’s not the tech tool that will get me there, no matter how “cutting edge” I stayed or how many tools I sprayed and prayed would stick. What would get me there is reflecting on my practice and understanding that in education we have to move beyond implementation to transformation.

The same analogy can be applied to almost any educational program, book, philosophy, and Golden Gate Bridge people try to sell you. We shove them into our pockets and down our students’ throats without first considering whether what we’re doing will help students, especially disenfranchised students and students of color. I think in education we’ve become so desperate for something, anything, to work that instead of acknowledging the issues and addressing the problems, we put little pink plastic band-aids on them. When those band-aids inevitably fail, we wonder why they didn’t cure the hurt, and we blame someone else and find another shiny thing to hold up the dam. Instead, what we really need to do is blame ourselves and take a good long look at the reflection staring back at us from the water escaping.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying… At some point, we need a Newt Scamander to watch out for us and occasionally shake us free of all that baggage and bring us back to our senses. It’s okay to enjoy tech tools. But it’s not okay to forget that it’s not about the tool. It’s about you and the young people sitting in your schools. Don’t sacrifice reflecting on and pushing for best practices for the sake of the next best thing.

Be a Newt Scamander for yourself so you can be a Dumbledore for your students.

Photo by Rami Al-zayat on Unsplash

Musings

Internal Editor

Where do I even begin with what needs to be said? Fingers pressed to my forehead, I contemplate all the words I know are inside of me and try to figure out how to edit them before they make their way onto the page. Or once they do make it onto the page I hit the “delete” key until what is left is nothing like what needs to be said.

Here’s the thing: I want to be a writer. Here’s the problem: My internal editor says I’m crap. And I believe her.

From stream-of-consciousness to word association, I’ve tried all the ways to turn my brain off and turn the writing on, but it’s never just… easy. Listen – I know writing isn’t easy. It takes time to hone your craft. It takes getting told “no” ninety-nine times before you’re told “yes”. It takes finding honest readers who will tell you your writing is crap and then give you suggestions on how to fix it. However, it would be nice to even get words on the page, to begin with, to get to those stages. Even now as I write this, I’m thinking of all the things I need to do before bedtime rolls around and I have to get ready to go to work tomorrow. Therein lies part of my problem.

I make a living as an English teacher. I spend most of my day teaching others how to write and how to read. As glamorous as that might sound, I get little time to further teach myself how to write and how to read, not the least of which do any of that for fun. And before you start in about “weekends” and “holidays” and “summers”, let me just straight up tell you: All that “time off” I spend thinking about YOUR kids and how I’m going to be a better teacher for YOUR kids. Lest this digresses into a rant, I’ll move on.

Prior to, oh, ten minutes ago, when I edited myself to write “I make a living as an English teacher”, I would claim “I am a teacher”. It may not seem like it, but there is a big difference in the way these two sentences are worded. The first implies my occupation is a temporary one, a stop on the way to something more. While the second implies that my identity is formed by being a teacher. Don’t get me wrong, I love teaching, but I think it’s high-time I am seen as something more by myself, by my students, by my administrators, and by society.

In a “take a left at the light, go down two blocks, cross the bridge, and take the first right at the mailbox shaped like a duck” way, that’s really what I’m trying to get at. My internal editor both keeps me from being a writer and keeps me locked into a job where I am finding less-and-less reasons to stay. This started out as musings on how we inhibit our ability to actualize what we want in life (e.g..: be a writer) and ended up something on the way to realizing what part of the problem may be (i.e.: the unhealthy and impossible tasks placed on being a teacher in the 21st-century).

It’s nothing profound, according to my internal editor, but at least it’s a start.

Featured Image by Mathew Schwartz on Unsplash

Poetry, Teaching

A few lines composed during state standardized testing

Their heads are bowed
in suspended animation
or it could be silent prayer.
There’s a good chance
it’s a little of both.
Bodies hunch over,
shoulders thrust forward,
shielding their fragile flame
from the storm of data disaggregation.
An uncomfortable silence
stretches on into the abyss of
“Thou shalt not write outside the box”
and flecks of pink eraser.

All this a mockery
to the life of individuality,
the promise of self exploration,
that previously filled the halls.
My students –
knowing and yet not knowing.
A horrible amalgamation of
imposed requirement and Schrodinger.

These momentary glimpses
at the normalizing of standardization
and erasure of student identity
makes me want to rip down the sheets of paper
I used to blanket their work on the walls
and throw a ticker-tape parade
with the shredded test books
as we celebrate a return to creativity.

Featured Image: Pixabay – “Desks” by macco0514 (CC0 Public Domain)
Musings, Unbound

The Pause

Pictures this: You are lying in bed, and the gramophone in your brain is winding down its last tune.  It’s soft serenade is lulling you into sweet repose, and the Sandman, that darling little cherub, is preparing a graceful sprinkling of dust to send you over into dreamland.  Then someone’s big hips bump the table.  The needle scratches across the groove, the Sandman rolls his eyes, snaps his fingers, and disappears, and you’re left with an infinite rehashing of every.single.blasted.thing.you.still.need.to.do.

As an educator, this is almost every night.  Even the glorious, though poorly named, “Holiday” and “Summer Break” offers little in the way of respite.  Last night on the eve of returning from Thanksgiving and making the final turn towards Christmas break, visions of writing assignments and short stories and classroom discussions danced in my head.  Even today, I could not stop my mind from leaping forward.  How sad the silent urgency to always be planning instead of stopping to enjoy the moment with your students.

When I first started composing this post, I was on lunch.  That delicious 30 minutes of time during the middle of the day when I have the opportunity to turn my thoughts inward.  I had intended to write about an educator’s need and, dare I say desire, to burn the midnight oil.  Now, it is well on in the evening, and that midnight oil has already been burning my vigor for a couple of hours.  Even in typing these words, I’ve just realized I do not want to write about work.  At least, not tonight.

A few years ago, I blogged only about education: my students, my experiences (both good and bad), the newest educational technologies, and a myriad of other educationally related topics.  Then I stopped.  Cold turkey.  I even cut off my incessant microblogging using Twitter.  It’s been relatively quiet in my head for the past couple of years.

I’m not saying I’ll never write about work.  I think it crucial for personal progress that we become introspective and reflect, regardless of our stated professions.  However, I think there is a fine line between reflecting and obsessing.  Obsessions consume you like always discussing your job consumes conversations.  

If you live in between the grooves of the record, you might always be stuck there.  This is the proverbial “life is what happens when you’re making plans” soundtrack skipping.  There will always be another record to play.  For right now, it’s time to live in the pause.

In response to Daily Prompt: Vigor
Featured Image: Pixabay – “Gramophone” by Bogitw (CC0 Public Domain)