I love reflection. I do it constantly for myself as a teacher, and I ask my students to reflect on their learning and experiences in my classroom, too. If you were to ask me what the most important aspects of teaching are, reflection would be in the top five. We are able to grow by honest reflection on our weaknesses.
But my reflection is usually based on memory. My perception of events both positive and negative. These could be hastily jotted down on the 8,000 sticky notes placed on any given surface of my classroom or lesson planning book, or in digital form in just as many places.
What I don't usually have is narrative reflection from the Dark Ages of Teaching Past.
At the start of inservice today, my principal handed all of us artifacts from years ago. Things he had collected at various times that we could choose to reflect on as we think about where we've been in our teaching careers and where we're headed.
This reflection was from November of my second year of teaching. Not quite as bad as that first year, but still nowhere near the same level of competence that I'm dealing with now.
My first reaction was mild embarrassment. Was it really so insurmountable to set high standards?
My second reaction was the irony. I was struggling to find a way to be clear with expectations. Now I'm pretty much known by all students, even the ones I've never taught, as someone whose expectations for both academics and behavior are never in doubt.
And now my reaction is relief. Those first five years...no wonder why so many teachers quit before they even have the chance to find out what kind of educator they could be. The learning curve is steep, and it happens in front of an audience each and every day.
Learning is messy, for kids and teachers. I'm so grateful my principal showed me enough grace in those early years to keep me from running away. I'm so glad he knows I've grown enough now that it's safe to look back at something so concrete and remember.
I've come a long way in eleven years. I hope when I look back after the next eleven (or six months, or whatever) that my growth will continue to be just as stark of a contrast. If I'm not a little embarrassed by past mistakes and relieved to be where I am, then I'm probably not pushing myself enough.
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.