Teaching is a tough profession. I was surprised to learn from Mike Anderson that there is actually research that places it in the top 10 most stressful jobs. (Gosh, I didn’t think it was that bad!) Anecdotally, we do know the stresses of school are multi-layered – from the increased demands to meet testing standard and/or school standards, the impetus to do more with less (human resources), a variety of learning styles and needs, the day-to-day schedule in most school, and oh, yes, a family and personal life.
But folks do it every day. Thousands of excellent teachers work far more than 35 or 40 hours a week, refusing to turn in receipts for items they purchase, reading books, attending conferences on their time and often at their expense, and working with children and families in more ways than they are “required.”
Exceptional teachers are passionate about learning – their student’s learning and their own learning. They also have deep interests in some aspect of learning – content, stage of development, curriculum, some niche of their work, which drives them to know more and do more. They get lost in that quest to know more and begin to connect the dots – many of them doing so with amazing skill and insight. Sometimes that’s in the gathering of materials or the presentation of a lesson or the teaching space. Or in the daily interactions with children and the careful words they choose to listen to, guide and move forward with a child.
Often, these passionate teachers put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) to reflect on what the observe, the data they collect, the musings and wonderings of how those smaller pieces fit together to answer questions, drive instruction and enhance the learning experience. Not everyone is in a place to write and share their observations and wonderings, but it’s an invaluable practice we all should embrace at least once in a career.
Every life has a story worth telling. Often it’s simply the logistics and white noise of life that hinders you from moving forward and writing. As with running or swimming or kicking a bad habit, once you get into a regular groove, you will find it to be something you look forward to. The payoff for the time invested becomes clear as soon as it’s solidified as a habit.
Where to start? Start small. Simple. Start with a medium you are comfortable with using. A moleskin journal stashed in your bag that you jot notes in over a cup of tea or while you wait for the train. A word document you keep a date with twice a week to reflect on classroom life. That nifty voice-recorder feature on your smart phone that you can ramble on to as you commute home (and if you’re a real techie, you’ll get it transcribe with voice recognition software!).
If journal writing isn’t for you, look for a colleague (in your building, in another or even on-line) with whom you can regularly engage in dialogue about your practice and each offer each other a safe and genuine venue to listen and move forward without judgment or expectation.
If you start this process and hold yourself accountable to your personal and private editorial schedule, you’ll be surprised at how enlightening it can be. Reflective writing can bring clarity to an issue, remind you of those small and large victories won every day, and can help you deepen your teaching.
John Dewey (yes, a distant relative) identified three characteristics of reflection that are worth keeping in mind as you reflect:
- open-mindedness – be willing to listen to more than one side
- responsibility – the careful consideration of the consequences of your actions
- whole-heartedness – a commitment to seek every opportunity to learn
These characteristics can be simultaneously simple and complex. Honesty is at the core of this dichotomy. By keeping your observations factual and being true to your feelings, you’ll be able to get to the root of the issue or see opportunity in a new light. Be open to the feelings journal invokes. Honor the responsibility to own your own development as a person and a professional. Dig into your observations, writing and teaching with whole-heartedly and see what you gain.
If you’re already a journal-er, then keep on going! Share your work or encourage a colleague. If this is new to you, be brave, my friend. Make a commitment to write a few times a week through Thanksgiving and see where you are with your writing, your teaching, and your sense of your self. Who knows, you might end up sharing that story you have to tell with some readers!