I’m not a very good teacher yet.
For the past two years now, I’ve been emphasizing that “yet.” It implies that I’ll be good some day–even soon, maybe. I’ll wake up and have it all figured out. My students will behave. They’ll be excited to learn. I’ll be a well-oiled teaching machine.
This is crazy talk.
A more realistic perspective is that my teaching will only improve through a determined effort in a few key areas–things I haven’t been doing yet:
Good teachers reflect. I learned this in grad school but never really applied it. The best teachers spend time assessing their own performance on each lesson, week, unit, etc. It’s the whole doomed-to-repeat-history idea. My sucky lessons will stay sucky if I don’t set aside time to reflect (in writing) what exactly went wrong and how I could fix it.
Most of my planning predicaments come from simple laziness. Teaching’s exhausting enough with classes, meetings, grading, etc. I honestly haven’t spent much time at all planning my lessons, especially long term. I tend to start units without knowing exactly where I’m leading my students–without knowing what I want them to remember forever when we’re done. I’ve realized that better teachers get by like this, but I really don’t want to end up that way.
Teaching really does excite me. I want my kids to grow up decent and wise, and I’d like to think my excitement shows. I very much would like to be good at my profession. Lately, though, my passion has dwindled, if only slightly. No longer do I stay up late every night creating lessons and games for my kids. I’ve stopped writing long personalized messages on every piece of student work, spending more time grading it than they did writing it. I haven’t yet found out a reasonable balance between the two.
I’ve read that part of the teacher retention problem comes from burnout. Teachers come in fired up to save the world. They teach their guts out and quit. It’s important to pace yourself in this profession (I can’t fix everything in a year). I just want to stay focused and do as much as possible without flipping out.
I hate these words nowadays because the meetings at my school seem so pointless. What should be an engaging seminar on diversity ends up being a sloppy Powerpoint with no advice or practical applications. Even department meetings seem unfocused with few people ever bringing in new ideas to share. I can’t think of the last time a fellow teacher mentioned a teaching-related book he was reading.
What I should be doing is developing myself. I should get myself to a conference once a year. I should be reading my profession’s journals. I should be writing for those journals, darn it.
Teaching requires constantly evaluating your own ideas, and that’s impossible without finding out about some new ones from somewhere. I’m not a good teacher yet, but, hopefully, I’ll learn a few things about what I could be doing better.