Thinking, Teaching, and Good Ol’ Mountain Air

I went out of town this past weekend with my family, for just a little over 36 hours, to get up into the clean mountain air, do some hanging out, some destressing, some reading, and some thinking. Now, I don’t need to get out of town to do any of those things, but where we go, we have no wifi or cable or cellular service whatsoever, so by default, we are forced to do those things.

Anyway…

Confession time: Until last summer, I never really gave much thought to my teaching. Thanks Doc, how much will that cost me?

Well, not the important type of thinking. I thought about what lesson I would do (usually that very morning), what worked last time that I would keep, what didn’t work last time that I would try to modify a bit for next time, what I would do/say if administration walked in unexpectedly, what dog and pony show I would give on the day of my review, what I was going to eat for lunch now that I ran out of Mac n Cheese cups, and why I cannot seem to stop wearing the pants in which the zipper never seems to stay where it should be.

I was good with thinking about The What and, to a lesser degree, The How, but I never put much (read: any) thought into The Why and The What If. And as I mentioned, I began thinking about the latter two last summer; and I haven’t looked back since. My teaching underwent a minor shift during the first part of last year, and I kicked it up a notch towards the end of the school year. But I feel like I’m on the cusp of a major overhaul for this upcoming school year. What’s weird though is that in my mind the shift is dramatic and life-changing and revolutionary and Homer epic-poem worthy; when in reality, it will be dramatic. Period. And that is still way better than is ever has been! (I will still live the others out in my head along the way though because Epic Poem)

You might be asking, “So what happened there Mr. Jedi sir, what caused the shift?”

Hey, thanks for asking 🙂

There are two things that, as I look back, greatly influenced this change. One) I actually began reading about teaching (I had to put down some of my YA Lit to do that, sad face) and Two) a change in our administration. Now I’m no weird mystic type of person (except with The Force of course) who reads their horoscope or checks out the stars or believes in the astrological signs; however, I am a big believer in the idea that things are meant to happen, that there is a reason for (almost) everything. I truly believe that my mindshift could not have happened without both numbers one and two happening at the same time. Just keep that in mind as you read the following explanations.

Number One:

Since the beginning of my teaching career back in ’07, I got really good at using Google to find docs and power points and lessons that I could “steal” to use in my class. As the years went on, and as I became more confident in my classroom and lessons and units, I began to refine my searches for more specific things to enhance the units I was already doing. I also discovered along the way the Teachers Pay Teachers website. From there, I was able to expand and embiggen my already good (good in my mind at least) lessons and units and such. I was doing this type of searching last summer to update my lessons yet again and I came across something rather curious. It was a website I had never heard of before written by a guy I had never heard of before writing about a topic that I have never read about before. It was weird and exciting and revelatory (sp) and humorous and enlightening and more adjectives all at once. It wasn’t an educations site like We Are Teachers or Edutopia. No, it wasn’t like those; this was a bonafide teacher blog. The very first bonafide teacher blog that I had ever seen. It was there that I saw someone else, in the same years of teaching as myself, articulate their thinking about their teaching in a way that was meaningful and useful and that could be practically applied in my own career. Mr. Dave Stuart Jr. single-handedly, in one blog post (I wish I could remember which one it was), got me to actually think about my own teaching, and why’s and the what-if’s within. From that one post, I was exposed to other teacher-blogger-authors whom I now follow religiously (see this post that links to some of these bloggers).

Number Two:

Since the beginning of my teaching career back in ’07, our school has been under the direction of three different principals. While I understand that in some districts, even districts around ours, that number can seem really low compared to other sites. But I assure you, in my world, on my site, that number is still too high (we can talk about middle school principal as a stepping stone in a later post). Principal #1 was in place for four years, but he was released under suspicious, conspiracy-theory type circumstances. Principal #2 was in place for two years before he moved up (thankfully) to the D.O. Principal #3, whom I’ll call Awesome from here on out, came in two years ago, will begin a third year with us, and, Lord willing, be with us for many more years to come. Prior to Awesome’s arrival, there was a great distrust of the admin at our site and in our district. Because of that distrust, we teachers turned to ourselves and among ourselves for encouragement, validation, and support. Since Awesome’s arrival, our collective mental health and morale shot through the roof within two months. It was insane to see. Teachers, including myself, felt the weight of uncertainty from the previous management and district woes lift off of our shoulders for the first time since Principal #1 was removed. Teachers who holed up in their rooms at lunch came out into the sunshine and the free, unrecirculated air. Our staff has always been close and tight-knit, but those few years wore on us mentally and physically. I am lucky in that I truly and honestly like and enjoy every staff member I work with, office, custodial, library, paras, etc. While we were great in our affection for one another, we all felt a gaping hole in mgmts trust in us as professionals. ***Until two years ago***  Awesome has given us trust, freedom, security, responsibility, and the okay to fail at something we think will work. Awesome has encouraged us to try out new things in the classroom and has given us the go-ahead on just about every idea our staff has thought up (budget limitations so far have been the ONLY limitations). Awesome has pulled me into the office and has shown me implicit and explicit worth as a professional, and has let me do and try and ask and fail and experiment and play and push and has given me the confidence to know that I am in a safe environment to do all those things.

It is these two events, happening within about 3 mos of each other, that have forever altered they way I will think about, and work within, my teaching and my classroom. And I don’t believe that without these two happening simultaneously, that any of this would be happening right now.

I feel blessed.

I’m excited for this next school year; the first day can’t get here soon enough!

Until next time my friends, may the force be with you,

-TJ

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