How have you changed as an educator since you first started?
How haven't I changed would probably take less time to answer, but I suppose I'll stick to the prompt. Anyone who has been reading this blog over the past 29 days could probably answer this question for me since I've included the theme of change in virtually every post I've written. I'll try to attack some different topics for this one.
It wouldn't be fair to think back on my first year of teaching without pausing in horror to remember how dreadful I was at any kind of classroom management. Let kids do what they want until it drives you nuts and then freak out by screaming at them once you've passed the breaking point? Seems legit. Balancing total lack of control with complete authoritarianism every few days isn't confusing at all, is it? There's a reason classroom management is a necessity, even if I wanted to ignore it and not be the teacher with all the rules; you can't accomplish the work of learning if there's no structure in place. My management mantra (stolen from a random Internet search) became "What you allow is what will continue." If I didn't want certain behaviors or actions to continue, then I shouldn't allow them to happen in the first place. Setting down a few basic ground rules at the beginning of the year didn't turn me into a dictator, it just made my boundaries clear. Kids respect that they know where they stand with me and most don't push it past the first few weeks. (And the mantra is applicable to pretty much any life situation.)
I'm more genuine, more real with my students than I was in those first few years. I'm 99% sure this was due to lack of confidence. I wanted them to like me, to validate me somehow as a person. That's not a fair burden to put on middle school kids. They have their own crap to deal with, and they're not here to make me feel better about myself (even though they often do). As confidence in my teaching grew (and let's face it: maturity as an adult) I worried less about being perfect and more about being real. My students generally tend to appreciate that I admit that I'm not always right or that I'm weird or insecure in many ways. I get to know kids better than I did in those first few years because I'm not trying so hard to be an idealized version of a teacher; I'm just the me version of a teacher.
I've mentioned it before, but it bears repeating because it's so fundamental to my class now: I can't believe I never used to write with my students. I spent so much time telling them how or what to write, and I gave carefully crafted examples that I perfected behind closed doors, but I never wrote with them. I lost touch of the difficulties of the writing process, the intricacies involved. I forgot the pleasure involved with writing, too. The satisfaction of revision, the frustration with editing: all of it. I'm a happier teacher when I write with my kids, and it reinforces for them that I know what I'm talking about.
The most important change might simply be that I've grown up since my first years of teaching. I was 23 when I started this career. Twenty-three! It's a frightening thing to go from being a college kid with an irregular schedule and lack of responsibility to being a "role model" for future generations. I said dumb stuff. I did dumb stuff. I didn't appreciate or realize the power and influence I had. There was no way to change that other than for me to live and mature, and I'm maybe after nine more years of teaching I'll look back on this time and think some of the same things about the way I am now (although hopefully the instances of stupidity will be fewer). We'll see. I'll have to grow up more to reflect on how maturity eventually impacts my career. Maybe it won't even be an issue in later years. Maybe I'll never grow more sophisticated than I am now. I'm okay with that for now.
I teach 7th and 8th grade English in rural Iowa and hope to reflect, connect, and share with other English teachers. Iowa Council of Teachers of English Executive Board member. Iowa Writing Project superfan. UNI MA:TESS graduate.