Wednesday, September 27, 2017

What's Your Passion?

     Are you in a job or do you have a career? Are you passionate about your position or do you go to work with a sense of dread every day? A 2013 Gallup study found a mere 13% of the workforce felt engaged by their jobs--meaning they felt hugely connected and engaged in what they were doing and spent their days innovating ways to make their company perform better. Conversely, the same study said that 63% of workers are "not engaged," meaning they're workers who during the day visit their "happy place" mentally. Finally Gallup found that 24% of workers are "actively disengaged" meaning they pretty much despise their job. Add the last two categories together and you find only 13% of workers who are emotionally  engaged in their workplace and find fulfillment there.
    Even though the study is four years old, the numbers disturb me. Can really that many people be so dissatisfied with their occupations? That's a hugely unhappy workforce. All these statistics made me look to my own profession. Teaching. I'd say we're statistical anomalies. Most teachers are engaged and passionate about what they do. Their problem isn't the kids, it's the lack of administrative support and recognition. Yes, there are bad teachers out there who merely "warm a seat," but I think that is the exception rather than the rule.
     I ask myself every August if I'm still passionate about teaching. Whenever the answer is "no," I'll know it's time to hang it up. If I'm miserable in the classroom, my kids will be miserable in the classroom. How fair is that? I want school to be an exciting experience that offers real-life application of academic skills to the real world. Some may question whether I teach English or not, but I'm pretty sure I do. Some classics, some choice, some moderns, some short stories, some poetry, some writing--last I checked those are all components of English.
     So evaluate yourself. If you're one of the 87%, maybe it's time to find a different workplace. For me, I've found my niche.However,  my passion isn't just to teach content, it's to teach kids. That is my passion and if you're a teacher, it should be yours too. It's easy to get caught up in content, but it's more important to get caught up in kids. When you do that, it can make all the difference.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Seeing Beyond

     Ever have a really bad day? Or week? Maybe everything in your life is in turmoil. Illness, strife, transitions--all of these can be contributing factors that distract you or keep you from doing your best. When times are tough, we want people to cut us some slack. So do students. Life happens and oftentimes it isn't happening the way we thought. Instead of complaining about a student's lack of focus, maybe we should show we care and take time to find out why.
     I teach at-risk kids. It seems their lives are in tumult constantly, usually through no fault of their own. Some don't know where they are going to sleep, what mood dad will be in when he gets home, how they're going to get to work because their car died, what bills they should pay...well, you get the idea. There is so much "stuff" going on in their lives that school often takes a second or third slot in their priorities. Maybe we need to look beyond the curriculum, see the student dealing with struggles, and realize that school isn't all there is in their lives.
     Growing up  wasn't easy for me. I can relate to a lot of the difficulties my students face. Maybe that's why I'm quick to give second and third chances. When I see a student struggling, I know there's more to the story. By taking time to converse with my student beforehand and establish a relationship with him or her when they start my class, it will be much easier for them to confide in me later when they are facing difficulties. I don't want to be their counselor, but I do want to be someone they can turn to for support and empathy.Sometimes that's all they need.
     We can have tunnel vision as teachers, focusing solely on the class and not the student. We're under pressure to teach content, meet standards, achieve proficiency and so much more. Some days the last thing we want is to hear the troubles of our students.But by taking a moment out of our day and showing genuine concern, we can make a difference.
      A student I had eight years ago stopped in the other day to visit. I remembered her clearly and was glad to hear how she was doing. What surprised me was a comment she made. "Remember when I was going through things and you talked to me? That was the first time I had a teacher care more about me than school. And what you said stuck with me. I think of it a lot when times get stressful. Thanks for what you did."
     Eight years. Honestly, I didn't remember the incident. But she did. Maybe what we say won't resonate with us, but it may with our students. We need to look beyond school and see the teen standing there, feeling helpless, adrift, troubled, and confused. School can wait, but their problems can't always.
     Seeing beyond school to the life our young people live isn't always fun. It can be complicated and messy. And that's just for us. Imagine what it must be like to live in the situation.Seeing beyond school to the student standing there is imperative--it can make all the difference.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Swimming Upstream

     Ever wonder how a salmon feels swimming against the current, trying with all its might to return to home base? Sometimes I think teaching is like that--when you try new things in your classroom, that is. I mean, really, how much effort does it take to do the same old, same old? Be like a salmon, and swim upstream.
     I'm in salmon mode right now. My students are working on a project that I don't feel like I have a handle on. Every day something new comes up and problem-solving occurs. I know it's okay to feel a lack of control, but everything inside me cries out to step in and take charge.
    How is this new idea working out? I'm not really sure. Is it what I envisioned this summer when the idea was born as I sat at Starbucks with a colleague imagining the possibilities? Not in the least. Yet I think it's working. Just because I feel out of whack, doesn't mean things aren't progressing. It's a lesson I have to learn and sometimes relearn--how to give up control and let the students be in charge. It's so much easier and efficient for me to step in, but would that allow students to learn as effectively?
     I don't want to be the only one swimming upstream in the classroom. I want students to feel a bit uncomfortable, maybe a bit off kilter, because they aren't being told what to do. They decide. They take charge. They figure things out.
     It's easy to see why teachers don't embrace projects and project-based learning in the classroom. We're control freaks. And giving up that control is not easy. But challenge yourself. Be a salmon and swim against the current. It could make all the difference.