The dark days of November are upon my students and admittedly the enthusiasm for being back in school has worn off. The fervor, rigor and rapid pace of schooling usually takes its toll on me this time of year and I have to develop means of not only survival but of hope as I try to do more than plod along. Most often my angst is affected by more than just the shortened length of the day. How I teach, what I teach is highly politicized. Even as praise is given for curriculum overhaul educators and administrators are redirected to begin training on yet another criteria for assessment or for teaching new standards. Parents faced with college applications, consolidation measures, higher taxes and demands from work or home attend school conferences with those burdens on their shoulders in their eyes as you attempt to showcase or defend the experience you share with their children. And students carry their highs or lows into the four walls of my room. Survival is a delicate balance drawn from my core happiness and the initial memory of why I first signed on to become a teacher.
Social Media. Core happiness was built on the idea that I would be in a community of visionaries who view learning as an adventure. When faculty seems divided and at times distrustful, embittered or overtly sarcastic I turn to other visionaries provided by social media networks. I have two weekly chats that I pop in on from time to time. I use Twitter to enter two teacher led chats and one commercial chat. Chats are advertised on educator blogs or through daily tweets. They usually last an hour or less. The organizer posts a hashtag like #edchat #teched #sschat or something similar. It only last an hour, posts usually evolve around a set question until it is exhausted or a tangent evolves. I become intimate with not just the people but the way in which people interpret the question. I try to have images or links at the ready to add to a post but it can be fun to throw out a “like” or “heart” and to comment as fast as others do. I get this small thrill from likes that will build around one of my own responses. I end up becoming a follower of one or two people before I leave. Then for the rest of the week I will check Twitter and find small, simple ideas to use in my practice. I usually sleep with a smile on my face.
Personal wellness. Annually I participate in a wellness program sponsored by our school insurance and this year peer coaching caught my eye. I’m piloting this with another educator. Since we are both focusing on regulating work stress, we meet for 1 -2 lunch periods to review the weekly criteria and to plan an after school workout. Usually it involves a run. Sometimes we run to a local pub for a hard cider and imbibe responsibly. Other educators will give us a lift back but sometimes we don our head lamps and run back to our cars. I have learned to pick future events to attend together giving me something to look forward to. It keeps me from engaging in negative banter.
Learning. Students bring me my daily highs and lows. I teach because I am fascinated with what motivates student learning. If they are engaged and happy then little else matters. Students want the time they spend in class to end in an added value not a failing grade. While I may grade student work instantly, I always return it for immediate self assessment and improvement. I have come to value digital hand in tools or google docs. And students have learned that resolving one of my editing comments will procure a better score. I work constantly at directing students to assess their own productivity as I guide them through the process. Managing class time to include self editing strategies that are regarded with serious attention is a difficult but I do think that it enables both me and the students to put the focus on the process instead of the person and to finish each day with a focus on the gains made in learning instead of the losses. At the end of a class I listen for conversations that carry over into the hallways and it is often that I can hear students announce with pride that they succeeded in a task. Sometimes they actually share in the content learned as well. Student discussion is a sign that everything is going to be more than okay.
Huddle. I recently joined a steering committee for a colleague who earned a fellowship. Celebrating her ambitions and her current work has really inspired me. We do not have enough time for lengthy meetings so once a week we huddle. We text a time and meeting place and take 15 minutes to huddle. We share and then move on. It changes the pace of the day, its fun and we walk away with a sense of accomplishment while feeling good about ourselves. 15 minutes can be very powerful.
It is midnight, I should be in bed to awaken ready for my Monday classes. Writing for this online community has become an important part of my psyche. I check in with the other writers, rant about writer’s block, surf for fun photos and focus on the professional developments that I need. I’m not fighting colleagues for shared resources or defending the pace of a lesson. I’m not arguing about noises in the hallway or changes in the grading policy. I try to thank my online colleagues for their support or send virtual praises towards these friends I have yet to meet in person. And I will try to pay that attention forward tomorrow to students, parents and the rest of my school community.