Sunday, May 3, 2015

Reflective Exercise for Teachers - Remembering the Call

I'd like to share a reflective exercise for educators, but first some background.

I recently I had to create a video to highlight the best things in our district. When I finished the final edit I was surprised by the weight and excitement of what I felt. We as educators have an amazing job. The chance to open the door of opportunity for thousands of young people throughout a career is an honor and also a frightening responsibility.

In fact, I think it's so important that I can't believe we came to it by accident. 

I have thought of this a lot over the past school year as I work with caring teachers. I won't attribute it to chance. I believe we are called to teach. There's a moment for each of us when God reached down, tapped our shoulder and said, "Hey, I need your help with something."

But then other times I think I'm dead wrong. Maybe some of us got in on a fluke.

I don't think it's just me, but over the past 21 years of teaching I've been everywhere from thankful for the call to concluding I misunderstood it completely. I have felt out of place, misguided and hopelessly unqualified. I have also been amazed at the sense of being where I am supposed to be. I've been grateful previous experiences in my life seemed to prepare me so well for unexpected opportunities in my work. I admire the design of it all.

It's like the commitment of marriage. Who could really understand what we agree to when we make those vows? Who could know what challenges lie ahead? It's a crazy combination of shortsightedness, poor understanding of love and unrealistic hopes that bring us to it. But  were we to get seriously rational about it, who would ever take the step?

So to decide to teach is to move forward with dreams that won't be fulfilled into situations for which we will not be prepared. That's just the way it goes. Reality is too vast to ask for more certainty.

And then beyond that there are countless things in the education system that will distract us from whatever it was that got us there. Those also will feel designed at times--designed to crush any deeper sense of purpose. Pressfield calls it Resistance and even if you don't personify it, anyone in the system has felt it.

So to deal with all that, I like to go back in my mind to the first time I really submitted to the call. I like to ask other teachers about their call. We have to go back there and remember what it was that excited us enough to do the work. Misguided as those initial visions may have been, I believe the core of them are important.

Too often the system encourages us to fit our dreams into the machine. "Teach that and teach it this way and if there's any time left you can care about those things that brought you to this point." But what if the trick is to go the other way around? What if we can fit those few things the system says are important into the dream that we once believed? Listen to the best teachers talk about their work and you'll hear hints that it's possible.

Here are a few questions for a reflective exercise on this thought. I encourage you to answer them in a journal and return to them regularly.

  1. When did you first know you wanted to be a teacher? Describe that moment of decision, what led to it and what you felt.
  2. What are three to five keywords that sum up the motivation or what you were thinking at that moment?
  3. Consider a scale from one to ten, where one is "throw the vision out" and ten is "that vision was perfect from the start". Given your experience as a teacher now, how would you rate that initial vision that got you started?
  4. Unless your answer to #3 was 10, what changes to that original vision would you suggest to your younger self?
  5. What are some teaching experiences you've had over the years that were close to that vision you originally had for yourself as a great teacher?
Hang on to those moments. Spend time with the people who help you move closer. Ignore the voices that would keep you from it.