Education is an extremely tough profession. Spend any significant amount of time in a classroom or a school, and you will see how complex the profession is, and the many roles that educators serve in the work that they do. Each year, it is only becoming more and more complex.
With countless initiatives, either new or outdated curriculums, higher public scrutiny, the job can be overwhelming. That being said, there are some things that we always need to remember that can help us navigate the complexities of the work that we do as educators.
- Education is a servant profession. This is something that I try to focus on daily in my work, as this can be easily forgotten, and even sometimes, we turn it around and act like students serve us. Questions such as, “What is best for students?”, and, “Would you want to be a learner in your own classroom?”, are ones that we need to answer daily, not with a simple yes or no. Yet servant leadership goes up the chain. Simplifying, teachers serve students, principals serve teachers and students, superintendents serve principals, teachers, and students.
Yet we often act the opposite way. More and more is piled upon the plates of principals and teachers, that make it harder for them to serve students and the community. We want teachers to be “researchers”, but give them such little time to do so. I learned that the higher you go up in any profession, the more people you serve, not the other way around. Really understanding and focusing on serving those in front of us, will make a major difference on what the experience looks like for our communities.
- Learning is the goal. Curriculums are shifting away from content only in many spaces, and developing skills, but the bottom line is that we develop learners. As the world becomes more complex, change is thrust upon all of us, our students will not always have the access to a wise teacher. They will need to figure it out themselves. If kids walk out of school only being good at “school”, we might look good in the short term, but the damage long term is something that will have a negative impact for a time to come. Ask yourself, do our students learn stuff when they walk out of your class, or do they know how to learn with or without you? Someone once said that “we cannot learn in the absence of a teacher”, yet if we believe that, we are creating too much of a dependence on others, and not learning to figure it out themselves.
- We are developing people. I remember one time I was talking to a teacher and a student came up to us with an emergency, and the teacher turned to them and said, “Can’t you see that we are talking? Wait until we are done.” It was said in a harsh manner and I was really uncomfortable with the moment.
Now we don’t want students to be rude and interrupt conversations, but every moment in schools, is a moment that can last with a student forever. Will you be the positive or negative memory that they have ten years from now? Treating our students with respect, modelling it in how we interact with other adults, is something that is (in my opinion) much more important long term for our students. This does not mean we shouldn’t have conflict with one another, but it does mean we have to learn how to challenge one another in a way that is respectful, students and colleagues.
Kids are very observant; what do they see and what do they eventually become because of what we model?
- “Never let an 8 year old ruin your day.” This one is harder to articulate so I will do my best. One year on opening day, there was a speaker who made the comment, “never let an 8 year old ruin your day.” It stuck with me, and it is something that I have thought about often. I remember in one case, a student was swearing and yelling at me, saying some of the most horrible things to me, and I stayed calm the entire time, and continued to stay with them until they calmed down, and we had a conversation, eventually talking in a rational manner about how the things that I just heard were not acceptable.
Earlier in my career, I would have been destroyed by these names, and probably would have affected me in a negative way the next day, and moving forward that year. But now, I have learned to let that go. There are kids who deal with things as young people, that I do not know if I could handle as an adult. These moments are often not about you, but about something else going on in their lives. That being said, I know and understand why many teachers (including myself), can take some of this pain that our students go through onto themselves, and it can be hard. Ultimately though, do your best to not take things personally. Easier said than done, but just remember, growing up is not easy, especially with some of the adversity that our students are dealing with. Sometimes kids feel like the world has given up on them, just make sure you do your best to let them know that you are not willing to do that.
As said earlier, education is a tough job, and every year we move forward, there is seemingly more thrust upon educators. As these endless initiatives and things that are thrust upon you, just try to remember why you do what you do. Starting with this end in mind, helps us remember what truly is the important work that we do.