In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus tells Scout, “You can never really understand a person… until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”* I’d say this is true not only for understanding people but also for understanding experiences. Think about things that you only understood as a participant. A magical moment while traveling in another country. What it’s like to lose a loved one. The first year of parenthood. We have ideas and expectations of what these experience will be like based on what we know from our own lives or have observed from the lives of others. We think, “This is how I would feel,” or “I would do it this way,” or “I would never react the way so-and-so did.” And sometimes, the reality of an experience is pretty close to our expectations of it. But other times, the only way you can understand the depth of emotions that come with an experience is to be there first-hand, to live it yourself.
Teaching is this way, too.
I went into teaching thinking I already had it figured out. I wasn’t an education major in college, but figured I knew enough about teaching to be fine. I went through public school K-12 and naively assumed that meant I understood the public ed system. I knew from camp counseling, babysitting, and volunteering that kids liked me and assumed this meant I could run a classroom. Learning new things had always come easy to me, so I assumed this meant teaching would, too. I had this gig in the bag.
Within three weeks of my first year I had begun to understand what I would realize over the course of that first year: teaching was nothing like I thought it would be.
I learned that first year that teaching is grueling—physically, emotionally, mentally. It was rewarding, too, of course, but not in the way that I expected it to just magically outweigh any obstacles I faced. More times than I was able to keep track of, I ended a day by putting my head on my desk and sobbing. Sometimes I was just tired, sometimes it was because I felt ineffective, but most times it was because of the recognition of the way various systems were keeping my students down. (To read more on that topic, read my post from earlier this year.)
People assume and say a lot of awful things about teachers, but I don’t believe it’s because they’re awful people. I think they just have no idea. They are, much like I was prior to teaching, holding assumptions about public ed based on their experiences as a student or what they know from hearsay. They don't know that our anger comes from a place of love; that we see our students suffering under a system that doesn't work, and are worried about them. So then we have a situation where they can’t understand because they’re not here with us, we feel ignored (and angry) because they don’t understand, and suddenly all of us are caught in this terrible cycle of misunderstanding.
So here’s my idea: let’s start a conversation.
For the month of December, let people know your wishes for your students using the hashtag #teachingiswishing. Ask yourself, what is an advantage or opportunity I wish my students had? Here are some guidelines I’d like us to consider.
- Keep it short. Though I know any of us teachers could probably write a 19-book novel series about what we want for our students, try to keep it to-the-point as possible. Think Twitter-length (140 characters). But certainly feel free to post more than once!
- Try to keep it student-focused. Though teacher pay and teacher workloads are absolutely things that need changing, the ultimate reason that we want change is on behalf of our students.
- Be specific. Using a specific example that shows your students’ needs is way more effective and personal than generalizations about the state of public ed. People have heard all the generalizations; they might not have heard the specific situation unique to you.
- Be factual. It’s harder to ignore a fact than it is an emotionally-charged personal opinion.
- Use the hashtag! If someone interested in knowing more about teachers’ needs clicks on the hashtag, they’ll see that teachers across the world have legitimate concerns about their students and the broken system in which we are trying to teach and learn.
- Tag your state and national leaders in the message on Facebook or Twitter. If you can’t fit all the people you want to tag in one message, create more than one!
Here are some examples of what I mean:
" I wish my eighth-grade students didn’t have 18 days of state and district testing this year. #teachingiswishing"
"I wish my students had a better student-to-counselor ratio better than 810:1. #teachingiswishing"
"I wish my students were in smaller classes where I could effectively address their needs. #teachingiswishing"
"I wish my fourth-graders had their recess back instead of study hall. #teachingiswishing"
"I wish my students had access to class sets of novels we could read together. #teachingiswishing"
"I wish the kids on the other side of town had the same access to resources and field trips as the kids I teach. #teachingiswishing"
Feel free to include pictures or videos in your posts (but make sure to not use any student names or photos). Remember, this is to make the non-teaching world aware of what is going in our schools, not to place blame or tell people what to think. Show, don’t tell ;)
Maybe I’m just being overly positive, but I really think that if the people who don’t know what it’s like saw how much we love students and how hard we work to see that they succeed plus the scale of the obstacles we all face as educators, they’d join us in wanting things to improve.
(Maybe not. But it's at least worth a shot, right?)
Join me this December with #teachingiswishing!
*I cannot read this quote without visualizing it literally.