I recently met an award-winning educator named Gary Abud on Twitter, and he told me about the #loveteaching campaign he's promoting this week. He made a cool explainer video about it (click here), but here's the skinny if you're short on time: this week, Gary is trying to get as many folks as possible to share why they love teaching, and he wants all those things to connect with one another through the loveteaching hashtag. So if you've got a Facebook account (here's Teaching the Core's page, by the way), a Twitter account (here's me), some other newfangled social media thing, or a blog — write a reason or two this week and together we'll flood the Internet with some good old fashioned positivity.
Here's how simple it can be:
— Dave Stuart Jr. (@davestuartjr) February 10, 2015
And, below, you'll see my attempt at doing it with a bit more verbosity.
First: is this #loveteaching exercise worth our precious time?
We teachers don't have enough time in our days; we can't just be doing things like writing #loveteaching posts if it's nothing more than a cute Valentine's Week activity. But it is way more than cute. Gary's idea is solid because the act of focusing on what we love about teaching is like doing a gratitude push-up; it strengthens the mental habit (or character strength) of appreciating what we've got and expressing that appreciation.
(For more on how gratitude makes us and our students better, click here.)
So thank you, Gary, for giving us this chance to get better.
4 Reasons I #LoveTeaching
1. The deep promise of teaching
In one of C. S. Lewis' novels, there's this bit where a character longs for the day when the trees of Narnia will speak. Throughout the books, you get a clear sense that, indeed, the trees will one day be able not just to talk, but to sing and dance.
A big reason that I love teaching is that there's still this kid in me that thinks potential surrounds us — potential we can't even imagine. I think that even our most broken or withdrawn students can one day, like the Narnian trees, dazzle us. That potential is in them. My goal, then, is to be one of many laborers sowing into each of my students' lives so that, both now and in the long-term, they'll flourish.
I resonate with the story of Johnny Appleseed: as a teacher, I get to plant thousands of seeds each year, and I can only imagine what an impact that will have on the planet. I can't ever know the extent of the impact my work has — I love that.
2. It keeps getting better
There's this idea that teaching is getting worse and worse in the United States — and I do think that, when you look at national survey results of how fulfilled teachers feel in their work, you see that this is more than a belief held in small pockets of our profession. It's a reasonable belief: standardized tests are, indeed, threatening to change what teaching has always been in human history; the curriculum is narrowing, many times for the worse; buzzwords are turning the national education scene into this weird, not-fun-at-all wave pool.
By habitually reigning in our focus, turning it from what we can't control to what we can, there's a teacher or two (or more) in every school in the country who is somehow flourishing during even this dark time for the teacher profession. We remind ourselves daily that, while our work is Never Finished, that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Connecting with more and more of these Never Finished kinds of teachers has helped me to enjoy the past few years of my career more than any before. Granted, I'm only in Year 8 — who's to say what I'll witness during the remaining decades of my work? — but the general theme is that, even as testing and pressure and the like have seemed to increase around me, I'm settling more and more into the goodness of this complex, potential-rich calling. The more I embrace the complexity and come to peace that there's no perfect place to get to, the more I like it.
3. There's so much to learn
I'm the kind of person who doesn't long for a job where you can just be done improving; I don't want that. This is part of the reason I don't fret over evaluation scores and other external measures of my effectiveness. I don't care if I get an A on my evaluation; I do care about whether I've mastered more teaching at the end of this week than I had at the end of last week. That's what's important to me.
For those who say, “Well, you will care when those evaluation scores cost you your job,” I have to simply respond that if I keep working hard at getting better, I believe there will be work for me somewhere. If it's not in this district, it'll be somewhere else. Would that be hard on my family? Of course. I'm never trying to lose my job. I just refuse to let “keeping my job” become a top priority for me. I didn't get into this to have that become my main goal.
If I tell my students that grades are an important thing in one's life preparation but not the ultimate thing, then I, too, need to live the truth out. Grades do matter in the world we live in, and they can, in some ways, be of use to a learner. Similarly, teacher evaluation scores provide me with information, with cause for reflection — and yet their use is limited. They don't tell me, for example, if I'm doing a great job or not, day in and day out. They just don't. I don't think they can.
I could decide to fret over that disconnect between what evaluations allege to do and what they actually do. I could get angry about it. I could kick things.
(Confession: I almost kicked my hallway copy machine this week; that's another story, however.)
Or I can just use my teacher evaluation scores for what they're worth. They're worth thinking about a bit.
And then, I move on and learn the things that really tug at me:
- How do I get my students to own their learning — and their lives?
- How do I help every student learn to find autonomy not just in doing assignments and projects and readings that they choose, but in doing the things that are required of them — the things in which they have little external choice?
- How do I build a work schedule that's sustainable, that pushes me to efficiency and performance that I'd otherwise not achieve if I took a lackadaisical approach to my work day?
- How do I best encourage and empower the fine folks who make up this Teaching the Core community — people to whom I'm indebted for their encouragement?
My goodness — just writing those questions makes me want to write thousands more words. This is the good stuff, my friends. Cultivate this drive in yourself that isn't about points, but instead is about questions.
4. There's still so much joy in it
Today I read a compelling article in The Atlantic about how joy is being squelched in our schools. A key element of the article tells the tale of character strength instruction gone wrong, and I think it aptly describes what can happen when we forget the whole picture of the children and adults we're trying to cultivate in our classrooms.
The key for me is always that the baby can't be thrown out with the bathwater. Self-control, grit, perseverance: these things do matter, for both our students and ourselves. Yet joy, humor, unrestrained curiosity — these are important, too. Both sets of things build a flourishing life — they get to Seligman's systematic look at the flourishing life, which he shorthands as PERMA.
Basically, I think that so often we view things in too straightforward a manner. We assume that we can't cultivate classrooms in which assigned work or shared texts can provide engagement for most students; we assume kids will only fake-read texts that we assign.
But that's just like assuming we as teachers can't find joy in teaching curriculum that we did not 100% devise, or in a profession void of all nonsensical, punitive accountability measures.
Joy, engagement, autonomy — these things are so often there for the finding if we'll just determine that there can, indeed, be joy for us and our students each day.
Why do you #loveteaching?
I invite you to share not just in the comments below, but also around the interweb.
(Psst! If you're not on any kind of social media, I recommend forming a distant relationship with Twitter — I'm living proof that you can use that network without being “on it” all day, every day.)