If there is a thesis statement for this blog post, it is that I believe most of what I read on twitter is dishonest – or at least misleading. I include myself in that statement. I’m not calling anyone a liar; I’m saying they omit important information. The local sheriff is a friend of mine and he once told me something I have never forgotten. He said, “Everyone has three lives. They have a public life. They have a private life. They have a secret life.” I believe we only see the part of teacher’s lives that are public and successful. We don’t see the messy part. We don’t see the failures. It is my opinion that by keeping these things hidden we skew the conversation and avoid conversations that might be the most meaningful.
There are those who want us to believe that if we will just listen to what they say, and do what they tell us (in five easy steps), our classrooms will be islands of excellence. I wish I had the money to go watch them do their magic – I confess I am a skeptic. I admire many teachers online who work hard for their students; they have helped me grow and become better. I just wonder if they struggle as I do.
In my last post I told a success story. Every word was true. Yet somehow I feel dishonest. For the rest of this post I am going to list some of my failures. Call it a confession of sorts – I want to publicly acknowledge parts of my practice I have concerns about.
Why? Just to be honest – and perhaps to open some conversation. We tell students we learn the most from our failures. So I’ll throw a few out and see what I learn in the process.
Almost a dozen seniors have chosen a minimum graduation plan this year so that they could avoid physics and algebra II. Most were students in my class who were passing, yet made a choice to leave. What does that say? If my class was a positive learning experience, wouldn’t they choose to stay?
I don’t think students would buy tickets to come to class. I’m not a great pirate. In fact, if attendance wasn’t mandatory I’m sure many wouldn’t come to class. That doesn’t mean I don’t try. In fact, I had a junior tell me yesterday I was the ONLY science teacher they ever had that did as many labs and demos as I do. He said my science class was the only one he had ever been successful in. That may sound like a positive, and it is – but it is also a sad, sad, failure of our school.
I have students who are basically illiterate. They cannot write in any meaningful way. Oh, they can put things down on paper, but they cannot communicate anything they know or have learned. I teach high school. That is shameful. Many of these students can barely read. They can decode – slowly, but they are basically unable to extract information from written text and communicate what they learned.
I have many students that fail tests. I’m just teaching to an on-level standard, not pushing for more. Last week I had a student do well on a test – this student cried, they were so happy. It gave me a knot in my stomach – what is the message they have getting about school? Why has it taken 12 weeks to find success?
I see other teachers posting awesome projects they do. I marvel at their ability to get them done. I feel incapable of that level of success.
Sure, some of my students love me and do amazingly well. They are impressive. The truth is, they would be impressive in any environment. I didn’t make them impressive. I have students that are in the middle. I know I am a positive influence on some, but I have others that are indifferent to me. With those I don’t have the relationship I need to have for them to do their best.
Then there are those students that struggle – those “at the bottom.” How do I know if I’m helping them? Do I make a difference? What is the standard? They have many, many issues in their lives. Some would say that is the reason they don’t do well in school; it’s not my fault. The alternative viewpoint is that they are the reason why we’re teachers. Those are the students that need us to be professionals. Those are the students that we have to be amazing for, and I don’t seem to be getting it done.
So what does that say? Are all of these other teachers on twitter eduawesome when I am not? How do we measure the effects of our time with a student? Do other teachers have the same issues and suffer the same insecurities?
When I listen to some expert with 10,000 followers bless us with their wisdom, I wonder if they failed some of their students too. I wonder if they are really great, or really good at self promotion. I don’t know; I’d like to see them teach.
So there you have it – I’m not amazing. I’m not even sure I’m good. I can tell you I care. I can tell you I do my best. I can tell you I love my job. I just wonder if it’s enough.
What are your concerns? How do you decide if you are any good at your job? How do you measure your success? I’d like to know.