We start this journey of teaching to help, to inspire, to give. We start this journey excited, full of hope, with great expectations. I remember setting up my first classroom with wild excitement, ready to meet my students and so happy to give what was needed. We give of ourselves, our own free time, our own money and our own heart in order to best reach each learner. But we all have a reason, a beginning, and an inner truth to why we started this journey.
Along the path of teaching we learn from our students, colleagues and professional development. We push our students and ourselves. We plan, create, teach, give, council, help, cry and the list goes on. During this path parts of us are taken and used. Many teachers hit a moment when they think, “Why am I here? What am I doing? Why am I doing this work?”
Five years ago I was deep in that darkness. I questioned what I was bringing to education. I questioned what I was bringing to my students. I questioned what I was doing. I made a grade level change, under new administration, in a new building and felt a bit of renewal. Three years passed and I was back in the darkness. Is this my path? Is there something else? I have never wanted another profession (OK, except to be a wedding planner but that is really out of any realm of possibility as I live in a small Midwestern town of 5,000 people. The number of wedding, really, is very limited.) and so I questioned what should I do?
I was invited by an administrator I greatly admire to become part of a book study group reading Parker Palmer’s “Courage to Teach”. There would be a monthly meeting. There would be chapters to read. I was not excited about more things to add to an already overfilled list. But the group was composed of teachers from our district from one year to many years veteran. I read the list and admired each of these teachers for different reasons. I decided to add one more thing to my to-do-list this year to maybe find my way out of the darkness.
In this series I will reflect on my path through our Courage to Teach work. This amazing group of educators, under guidance from Parker Palmer’s touchstones and our fearless curriculum director, has led me to understand the paradox of myself as a teacher and bring me back to the core WHY I am here and WHO I am as a teacher.I started reading, “The Courage to Teach” and began to remember those reasons I chose this profession. In our first meeting we discussed our goals. Why were we here? What did we expect to take from this group? What were our fears?
We were given time to journal and reflect. Silence was respected. As we were invited to share, I realized here was a group of successful teachers who were just like me. They were questioning themselves and their profession. They were afraid of letting down their students. They were overwhelmed by the demands of society, testing, lawmakers, and expectations. They wanted to find passion again. They wanted to talk about teaching. They wanted to focus on who they were as teachers. This was not about another meeting. This was not about how to teach or a place to fix your wrongs. This was a place to examine who you were. This was not your typical professional development. What an uplifting idea.
Reading the book was not as important as the discussion and the quiet moments that occurred in the circle. Our leader would pose questions or activities. We reflected on these and then thought about them. How often do you allow yourself time to think about who your inner teacher is? How often do you listen to yourself and your heart? Is there any recent message or clue from your inner teacher that you feel you should be listening to? What does this require of you?
We set up a monthly calendar for our future dates and divided the book up to complete by the end of the school year. I walked away from that first “meeting” hungry for more. I felt empowered and redirected as a teacher. Don’t get me wrong, there were still so many frustrations still in my heart and mind. I still had too much grading to do, test scores to prove, other meeting responsibilities and committees and students who needed more than I knew how to give. I did, however, feel a small sense of renewal. I know why I am a teacher. I know what is best for my students. Taking a moment to recognize this teacher, this person whom I know better than anyone else, giving her a louder voice than I had before, refreshed me in a way professional development had never done before.
Over the next month I read most of the next chapter. I took from it what I needed and listened to my inner teacher. I became empowered as I realized I had the answers. I did know why I was teaching. As I acknowledged WHO my inner teacher was I found those joys in teaching that brought me here. I was able to look at the testing, public opinion, admiration, and everything else through fresh eyes and apply my heart back into this profession. I am so happy to have reignited the inner truth to why I started this journey.
Looking through the chapters we would cover I began to think about how this would speak to my inner teacher and what impact this would have on my students. How is fear used in education? Does it paralyze or inspire courage? What questions guide my life and are they the ones I want at the forefront? How does having a personal connection to the subject matter impact teaching? How does turning the focus to practicing your subject with your students differ from covering the subject with your students? How do you stand in the gap? What is meaningful to you? I invite you to spend some quiet time, alone, and focus on your inner teacher.
May you reconnect and find strength that will have an amazing impact on your classroom.