More To Do, But Starting Simple

I haven’t had a whole lot to say lately. After two-plus years of cranking out education articles on an every other week schedule, I have laid off the site a bit. Don’t mistake that for laziness or being content. And, definitely don’t mistake that for me being “done” with what I have to say.

You see, I am constantly fighting this battle within. The more notoriety and attention we get on this site, the more I want to withdraw. Sometimes it scares me that the original purpose of this site and our team could get lost.

I am not a brand.
I am not an Edu-Star, nor do I want to be one.

The thought of publicizing the book we wrote makes me so uncomfortable. I am not one–neither is the Admin–to sit down, think of some catchy phrase and post it all over social media. I don’t have an interest in that. Yes, I write for a site called The Teacher and The Admin, but neither one of us are interested in leaving our profession to tell others what to do. Both of us have infinitely more to do in our jobs.

And, that’s the part that makes me want to withdraw. I have so much more that I want to do in this job. I still am not where I want to be with my teaching. Yes, I can see that I connect well with kids, but I want to be a better teacher of skills. I want to be a master teacher. I know I am not there yet and perhaps it will be a forever chase.

I also want to improve the system. I want to make this system better for all us–teachers, admins, professionals, and, most importantly, the kids. We have so much to do. I know Kris feels that way; we’ve never looked at this site as a vehicle to get somewhere else. And, I feel that we can effectuate change much more efficiently with both of us practicing what we write. So, maybe I have pulled back from the site a bit because of that.

At the heart of it, I am a writer. I love to write. Even sitting down and typing these words makes me feel a sense of contentment that can’t be matched by any other activity. And, at the heart of it, I am a teacher. I love being in a classroom. I love the magic of it all. Being in a classroom makes me feel that same sort of contentment that only writing really comes close to matching. I don’t want to be “social media famous”. I don’t want to go on tours. I simply want to write and teach.

But, all of that is so hypocritical of me. I’ve written and said so much about being “That Person” and standing up to make change for kids. I’ve said that you must be willing to take on those naysayers and go beyond your classroom to make schools a better place for kids.

The more I want to be quiet and just do my thing in a classroom, the more the universe keeps pushing back.

I see and hear so many kids who are miserable in school. Just last week, one of my freshmen told me that she hates coming to school. Another one joined in and said that she felt like some teachers didn’t even know her name. I had two students write me letters saying that they never thought the majority of teachers and administrators valued who they were. I hear my own daughter, a middle schooler, talk about how just one or two teachers are the reason she even tolerates school.

Those voices are real. They aren’t the exception, chosen to make this piece a bit more melodramatic. They help amplify the statistics of high school students feeling more and more invisible in the eyes of their teachers. Why do we have a system that results in kids feeling last cared about as they progress towards the end of it?

Those voices amplify the fact that more and more students of all ages come to school with a high level of anxiety. How can we, as we are about to enter the year 2020, still have an environment that doesn’t foster confidence, doesn’t prioritize ways for kids to self regulate, and, most importantly, doesn’t allow for students to easily access help?

Almost every student is obsessed with their number, their grade. From my high achieving advanced placement kids, to my 9th grade class, to my middle school daughter, they feel as if they are a failure if the number isn’t high enough. Learning is lost, passion is dimmed, and self worth is chipped away because of this system we still have in place.

So, we have a group of kids who essentially feel that they don’t matter, who are anxious about so many things, doing anything and everything to chase a number, and finding worth in that number. It just doesn’t make sense.

But, back to the conflict…

I know that if we don’t continue to put things out there, fight for change, and spread our message, nothing will get done. I just know that there is a balance to be had and I do believe that we have walked that line. I know book sales are important, but making the actual, tangible changes where we work and to, hopefully, influence those outside of our district are infinitely more important.

I was asked by a colleague a few weeks ago how I was. I responded with, “Everything is great. Perfect actually.”
That was met with, “Well, lighten up a little then with the writing. You’re ruffling some feathers.”

Then, I had to go to my next class. This year, I travel all three periods and each room is on the opposite end of the building. So, I am in the hallway a lot. I get to people watch as I go to class. Some kids are laughing with friends. Others are looking at their phones. And, then there are the kids who are walking alone, not interacting, not smiling. Every ounce of their spirit is oozing that they don’t want to be there. They are probably the kids who go quietly into class, say little, and then go on to the next one, simply running out the clock on the day.

Those are the kids who need people to keep trying to make things better. They, along with all of the anxious, the ones who are bored, the ones who need extra help to master skills, are the reasons why we can’t pull back. We must keep going, focused on our jobs, not at creating a social media following. It’s why we can’t lighten up. It’s worth it.

Something Practical Before You Go…

Now, that I got that out, I figured I should leave with something practical. It’s something I started while I was at a conference in Rochester, New York. Because the conference was big, the venue was actually connected to multiple hotels. They had employees stationed in the hallway just saying hello to people as they walked by. Obviously, they were there in case people needed help with directions, but the “hello” is what stuck with me. We don’t do that enough. We don’t acknowledge people enough.

So, as I was walking back to my room later, I saw an older man emptying the trash. I stopped, said hello and told him to have a great night. He smiled and returned the favor. I saw that I may have been the first person who acknowledged him that didn’t know him that day. It clicked. People need to be told they are seen.

So, now, I have a new routine to my day. My first classroom is adjoined to our In School Suspension room. Each day, I walk through and say good morning to each one of the students who are in the room that particular day. They have, without fail, all said good morning back with a smile. I’ll do the same after class and tell them to have a good day. They all respond.

As I am walking the hallways, I will always say hi to the kids I know. But, now, I make a point to seek out the kids who are walking alone and just say hi. So many respond.

I’ve also made the point to start my own classes a few minutes later, instead starting with a hello and just chatting with them. I want them to know they all matter.

It isn’t revolutionary. It isn’t anything difficult. But, saying hello is a good first step. It won’t make you famous. But, it will help a kid have a better day. And, maybe, just maybe, it will lead to more inspired learning because they feel like they belong.