Lessons Learned From the Classroom

Though it’s taken some time and too many complications to count, I can finally say with confidence that I’ve arrived at what I consider a teacher’s professional nirvana. To say this another way is to say I get it. Not part of it. Not even most of it. I get all of it and I have come to appreciate my life through the fortunate lens of the educator.

While many admire and respect what I contribute to society through teaching (considered “noble” by many), others believe there’s more to my life than a classroom. Perhaps the inspiration for these questions is my demeanor, the way I question life and reality, or find ways to put on a smile and bring people together. All of that is only quantifiable if we could create a way to measure attitude and perspective, but make no mistake- I love what I do because it’s all about the life of a teacher. It’s where the magic begins. And ends!

Justifying my role as a teacher to others who assume I should have aspirations beyond a classroom is sometimes taxing. Since when has enough been enough? I feel isolated by this question because it implies that even though what I am doing is seen as good and giving, there must be some ambition within me to become something more. Whether for financial gain or to become more “professional”, what is the motivation for anyone to ask this question? It’s somewhat demeaning and not acceptable. I don’t ask my postal carrier if she aspires to become the PostMaster General. Nor do I see fit to ask the line cook at my favorite restaurant if he wants to work at a Michelin starred restaurant. As if this “noble” profession of teaching needs justification! Let us do what we do in peace and allow our energies to be spent on classroom instruction or placing post in a box or dropping frozen fries into the fryer and not on developing a plan to instruct the inquisitive around us why world economics and democratic consumerism don’t necessarily relate to a profession that is a calling to too many.

I once heard that a teacher will begin to feel like they know what they are doing after three years. While I have repeated this idea, I don’t believe in its truth and wonder if other professions have similar time assumptions. There is joy in finally understanding teaching so fully that to retool and redesign lessons happens instantaneously. More profound is the need for collaboration to bridge ideas and branch expectations beyond what is common to our own lives.

Each year I have come to expect the world from my classroom and its’ learners, but it’s the classes themselves- the living and breathing network of thinking souls- that drive where they end up. I can’t imagine being a teacher bound by curriculum so strict that to stray from a lesson would lead to alienation to others in the department or district. At the same time I wonder how often those teachers do stray from their designed standards to teach what’s common, what’s human, those ideas that connect the mind with learning. It’s why each 4th quarter I begin to look ahead to the next school year and starting fresh with another group of world changers.

This profession of teaching is not an anomaly nor is it beyond the realm of the common. We are all learners which means that our interactions with this world become the fodder for everyone’s ability to educate and teach. My teaching experience gives me the insight for opportunities that I would have either overlooked when I started or was too uncomfortable to discuss. Earlier this school year riots erupted in Ferguson, Missouri, after the death of Michael Brown. As protests spread across the country I became enamored by the passion I saw in the faces of those seeking justice and equality. This is not a new concept, but each time we are faced with the painful reality that we aren’t as removed from the past as we thought then we each need to pay more attention to what we contribute to a solution. All of this learning isn’t about an us versus them (and when I hear anyone term others as “them” I cringe), it’s about us. Sometimes education needs to be simple.

Would I have the same impact on students and thinking as an administrator or district representative? It’s unclear. Very few of the dozens of administrators I’ve worked with possess the magic of connection. Meanwhile I sit in my classroom every day and interact with thinkers, observers, students who have a future filled with endless possibilities. My concern is not based on a state test or multiple choice exam. My concern is with seeing this world and all we interact with through a critical eye. It’s a human right to question. To think. To consider how our choices impact where things come from or where they are going. To find a space where we fit and connect. Because we do.

And there’s the beauty. Love where you’re at and make the impact you have on others positive and refreshing. I know the joy that comes with biting on crispy too-hot-to-eat-yet fries and from letters received from friends and family. These jobs and the humans that bring them to life are the heartbeat of our society. So next time smile when you walk to the mailbox for the surprise that might be awaiting you. Next time you’re out to dinner peer into the kitchen and give some thumbs-ups to the line cooks and dishwashers who are putting the pieces of a meal together exactly how you want it. Their impact on us reflects our impact on each other as we deliver respect as crisply and as quickly as we can.

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