How do you envision your teaching changing over the next five years?
I can't begin to answer this question without looking back at the past five years to see how much I've changed in that relatively short period of time. So for today, a brief timeline of the last five years.
2009: My fourth year as teacher. No longer making the horrendous, embarrassing, borderline negligent mistakes of the first year, but not necessarily a better teacher yet, either. I knew I was more comfortable with basics, like classroom management (an absolute necessity at the middle school level), but not enough knowledge or experience to get too far outside of my comfort zone. At the time, I was probably content with what I was doing, but I wasn't creating better writers yet. I especially regret my feedback to student writers from that time: full of nit-picking comments, most not necessarily helpful. One of my teaching ghosts is that I probably (unintentionally) created a hatred for writing in quite a few students back then.
2010: A rough year. It's funny to consider that I can't even remember now what had me so upset, but I remember my fifth year being tumultuous for our entire faculty for some reason. I was unhappy and I remember coming to the realization that something needed to change: either leaving my district or leaving the profession (I did neither).
2011: That drastic change was finding the MA:TESS program through UNI. From the time when I was a kid and originally realized people could become a "master" of my favorite subject, I'd always dreamed of earning my MA in English someday (without ever considering what it would entail besides more reading and writing and talking with other people who do those things). When I randomly saw the brochure for an English program specifically tailored to working English teachers, I was sold. The summer of 2011 was when I took IWP Level 1 in Charles City with Kirstey Ewald and Brad Weidenaar as facilitators, and as I've mentioned before, it was revolutionary and integral to the teacher I am today. The changes were immediate and this was the turning point. Instead of doing what other teachers in my building and district did just because that's what we do, I started delving into professional literature, seeking out English organizations, and reaching a wider network of other teachers since my location allowed me to isolate myself too much. IWP humbled me, and if more teachers confronted their weaknesses in this kind of thoughtful, gentle environment, we would have a stronger teaching force across the board. But I get it. It's difficult to admit (or even recognize) that you're a sub-par teacher if you don't know any different. I knew I wasn't satisfied in many ways those first few years, but I didn't realize how much I needed to learn until IWP. I'm grateful I took the class so early in my teaching career so I could start on the path I'm on now.
2012: Much like 2011, a year of learning and applying and reflecting. Between the TESS program and IWP, my classroom began it's evolution into an experimental zone. I got comfortable with being uncomfortable during my teaching in order to see what works best for me and my students. Continuing the realization that no lessons or assignments or units are ever "perfect" and set in stone.
2013: Between exams, research, and writing to finish up the program, I was already stressed. But then other factors added to it: an anonymous parent "reporting" to my school that I should be fired due to a beautiful (and yes, "artistic") photo a friend took of me with my husband and my bare shoulders, and another anonymous complaint that someone had seen a photo of me drinking a (gasp!) beer (not wildly partying; just a 31 year old woman drinking a beer). I was sickened and fed up: it didn't matter how much I did for the kids each day, how hard I worked and how much they learned. If I didn't fit the plastic, saintly, irreproachable version of a "perfect" teacher at all times, then no one in the community would ever care, so why should I? In the midst of all of my hard work and some really kick @$$ improvements in my classroom, I was ready to quit this profession forever because it wasn't worth it to feel personally attacked. I stewed about it for months, looking for different jobs, thinking about what it would be like to join the corporate world. And then I didn't. School has a way of sucking you back in, and regardless of those two complaints, I was doing amazing things in my classroom. I was putting my new research on response to student writing into practice every single day, analyzing what worked and what didn't and celebrating the growth that I could see over such short periods of time. How could any other job compare to the kind of magic I get to work on a regular basis? I'm still saddened that people felt the need to report me as some kind of dangerous influence what with all the husband adoring and age appropriate beer drinking, but I can't control what other people think. Maybe it was one person who had a vendetta. Maybe there's a super awesome secret society devoted to hating me because I'm tough on their kids. I don't know, but I can't let it affect me to the point where it makes me hate my job and question what I do best.
And here were are now, in 2014. Wild ride those past five years, huh? So when this blog challenge asks me to envision how my teaching will change in the next five years, I can't. My teaching is always changing; it's what I do. Yes, I have certain units and stories and themes that I always gravitate back to, but I've never taught them the same way twice. I tweak, I add, I subtract, and I love to experiment. Sometimes it's fireworks and sometimes it's duds, but it's always different and always evolving. In the next five years, I think (hope) I'll change by developing thicker skin, and not allowing minor distractions to upset me so much. I hope I keep my love for change and learning constant. In five years, I still want to be on the incredible journey that started in 2011 with IWP, ICTE/NCTE, and TESS.
Edit: I realized after writing this that maybe some would be curious about the picture I got reported for, so I thought I'd include it. Maybe some would agree that it's inappropriate for a teacher and you'll stop reading this blog, but it's one of my favorite photos ever taken. My best friend took this photo of my husband and me in a ditch across the road from our farm house. The love on both sides of the camera that day was palpable. Please also know that I never placed this photo in my classroom or where kids would see it attached to me; the offended person actively searched for it on my friend's professional photography website (which you can find at facebook.com/iwritelight).
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.