My wife jokes that we cannot go anywhere without me running into someone I know. What is nice is that these incidents where I run into students at the store or at dinner are - so far- positive.
But it has also served as a reminder-
I am not anonymous.
I find myself very aware of what I purchase, how I tip, and how I act in public because in a our "little" town of just over 100,000 people, I am always running into students.
Now, a teacher has a right to their private life. But that is no excuse for us acting in a manner on Saturday that will impact our relationships with students come Monday. And there are several key areas we need to be keenly aware and take action to protect our character in the eyes of our students.
You have a right- and obligation- to practice your politics. Whether you vote R or D or EDU- it does not matter except that you do it. The area you need to be careful in is HOW you go about your politics. In our classroom, we must keep our politics out by law. But when our students see us out advocating for our politics- are they seeing us advocate with character and integrity or with the kind of political speak becoming all too common?
I work very hard to keep students from knowing my political affiliation because with my content (especially debate) I want students to develop their own politics- not parrot mine. I never want to teach my debaters to "say it like I would," rather to speak like they mean it. And if I am able to encourage both sides of a political debate in my class, I need to be able to accept and respectfully debate those politics when I am not in the classroom. So if my student sees me, they see me maintaining my same character.
I used to be a minister. Once, at a high school basketball game, I stood next to a deacon of my church as he proceed to take off his hat (which bore the church name) and scream a taunt at the referee. Then he smiled as he put the hat back on.
What that spoke to me was that he knew his behavior did not represent the church well, so he wanted to hide his affiliation.
As a teacher, you are not anonymous. Your actions at your child's sporting event, or your students', will be noticed. Are you POSITIVELY supporting your team, or NEGATIVELY running down the other- which by the way, if not for geography, could have been your students? If you are showing poor sportsmanship, it will be contagious.
To clear the air, I do not drink. It is a personal choice, and one that I have held my entire life. The sum total of alcohol I have consumed could probably be contained in a medium sized beer mug. My choice is not everyone's, so I recognize and support a teacher's right to drink an adult beverage.
But it must be said that when doing so in public, I believe we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard. If I did drink, it would not bother me if a student saw me responsibly consuming a beverage if I was of age. Because I am still modeling a law abiding right that they too will some day have. But if my student saw me drunk or hungover- what moral stance could I have with my student come Monday?
I know what the argument is- as an adult over 21, I can drink as much as I want. True. But as an adult teacher over 21, SHOULD you? If I am drunk behind closed doors at my home- that is one thing. But drunk at a public place like a restaurant, wedding, or tailgate? What image does that convey to a student about self control?
Finally, if you have ever been at a restaurant and had students see you or even wait on you- how did it affect your behavior?
I am very aware of my actions toward the staff- is it respectful and courteous or demanding and rude? Being aware that students are watching how I treat others when I expect them to treat others with respect daily makes my interactions here important.
And tipping? Especially if your student is the server? That is a tough one, but know that your actions there will have a lasting impact on that student no matter how much or little you leave.
I do not want to be preachy about this- but I implore you to be mindful when you are out there. Eyes are watching you. You may not have the paparazzi snapping shots of you- but a far more important audience is. They are taking note if you are the same in the class as out- holding yourself to similar standards that you hold them to.
You are not anonymous, afterall.
I began thinking about writing this reflection, and something happened.
I got busy.
Rather, I stayed busy.
This is not a realization that is alien to any educator, as evidenced by this common refrain among teachers:
Educator 1: "Hey- how are things?"
Educator 2: "Ah, you know, super busy."
Educator 1: "Totally get it. I was at the school until late again last night."
Educator 2: "Yep. And I've got so much grading to do AND my extra curricular is this weekend."
It is safe to say that our reasons for business are vast and varied- from grading to extra-curriculars to a desire to continue to grow, and do all that we can for students.
For me, education is a calling. But callings are dangerous things. They can consume you, they can become your life. Before teaching, I was a minister- another calling. And as in teaching, ministry consumed my life. You can set boundaries, you can set aside time, take breaks- but with callings, the job gets in your heart. You think about it when you are off- so you are never off.
It is a cliche to say we do what we do for the kids. Too often, that phrase gets used to justify having to do something we do not want to do (or guilt another teacher into doing something they don't want to do). But the truth is, I teach because I want to make a difference. And I am pursuing administration to make a bigger difference than that which I can in my classroom.
Here is where my calling and my ambitions clash. See, I take on more and more responsibility because I want to make a difference in as many lives as I can, and because those responsibilities will help to develop my leadership and prepare me for administration.
But what has happened is that I keep taking on more and more- and still have not been able to move into that position.
So I find myself in my most feared position- stuck. I fear I cannot let some responsibilities go because then people will say I cannot handle my workload and use that as a reason for passing me by- and I also do not want to let students that have come to count on me down. So, to answer the reflection, what I find myself in is a spiral of perpetual work with no movement.
I am frustrated, and I am not alone.
I know there are others who have done great work in both quantity and quality that watch as other people get a shot and they get more workload. And if they are like me, they take that rejection (often accompanied by the really offensive "Just keep doing what you are doing, it will happen") as evidence they need to do more.
For me, I am coming to a realization that I cannot be the educator and leader I need to be for my students if I have an empty tank. And I cannot be the husband and father I need to be, either. That means a long hard look at committees and groups I serve in that are not serving me or my students as they should. It means taking the risk of stepping down from things that look good on a resume, but are taking fuel from my calling to make a difference. Time spent in a committee meeting that moves no significant change could be better spent reflecting on my practice and instruction- or developing ways to better connect with students. I will be taking time to reflect on the student groups, teams, and organizations as well as committees I serve on to see what is truly having an impact on students- and which ones I can move on from.
A long time ago, a fellow educator told me to learn to say "no." It is time I learned that lesson.
It is the spring semester now, and that means I get to teach my psychology classes. I really love the depths that I can go to in understanding and helping students understand how human beings work. Early on, we are discussing the historical growth of psychology and we learned today about one of the most important tools any human being can possess: Introspection.
Introspection is the act of looking into one's self, one's own personal motivations, emotions, and behaviors to better understand yourself. In education, we take to calling this reflection. As teachers, we ask students to reflect on their work, and we in turn expect our peers to thoughtfully reflect on their practices.
The truth is, many of our students do not know how to engage in real meaningful introspection because one limiting factor is age. You have to have experiences to reflect on them, and many of our youngest pupils have a limited toolbox there. And a reflection need not always be written- though I think writing introspections has tremendous value- because you are really just helping students learn to process. But there are still ways to introspect- or reflect- with students that model this practice regardless of the age.
How does that make you feel?
One of the most basic practices is to ask how a thing makes you feel. In order to get away from the basics (sad, mad, glad, etc.) ask your younger students to pick our a marker or crayon color that shows how they feel. Let them explain why they chose that color. As students get older, and experiences grow, you can dive deeper into those feelings, asking questions like "Is there another time you have felt like that? How do they relate to each other?"
Why do you believe what you believe?
The dreaded "why" we get from our young ones can be used against them! When students share a thought, ask why they think that. It is important that your intonation is one of genuine curiosity, and not disappointment. As students get older, explaining the importance of knowing why you believe something is just as important as stating what you believe is vital. Just listen to a teenager complain about something political with great passion, then ask them why they think that. Again, not as a "gotcha," but to genuinely understand their point of view. It will also force the student to evaluate just how dearly they hold that view.
Interestingly enough, the most effective way I have found to help students understand why the believe in what they believe in is to make them argue against it. When a student is passionately for gun control and they have to debate against it- they do not often change opinions, but instead deepen and strengthen their original stance. The introspection is increased because it is attempting to understand the other side, and evaluate how best to support their own views- or change them if in error.
The bottom line is- we need to evaluate our selves and see where we stand on a regular basis whether we are first grade or forty years into teaching. Learning to honestly assess our own feelings is a necessary skill, and one we need to teach more often.