being a teacher

I Used to Be a Fun Teacher

I used to be the fun teacher. The one that had the crazy ideas, the noisy classroom, the one where kids couldn’t wait to see what they would do next.  I wasn’t the only one, by any means. Being a 5th grade teacher meant there was a lot of laughing.  A lot of crazy moments that kept us coming back and moving forward.  A fun teacher, yeah, that used to be me.

Now it seems I am the hard teacher.  The one with the crazy expectations, the one that makes you sit and write or read.  The one that keeps telling you to try again, to give me more, to explain further, to revise, to edit, to think harder.  The one that talks too much, asks for too much.  It seems somewhere in my transition from 5th to 7th I forgot what teaching needs to also be about; joy.  Not just learning or expectations.  Not just growth and gains.  But smiles, laughter, crazy moments.  It seems so long ago that I used to think I was a good teacher.

So I can blame the system.  The 45 minute time constraint certainly creates pressure.  The standards.  The whole idea of building a literacy foundation so that kids can succeed everywhere else.  The pressure of knowing that every moment counts and that when you decide to do something that perhaps doesn’t tie in completely with the learning, you need to make up for it elsewhere.  Or I can blame myself.  7th grade has apparently turned me quite serious.  Like every minute matters more somehow than it did in 5th.  That because they are 2 years older, my mission of reaching them, reaching them is so more urgent.  That because I still feel like an outsider at times, that I try to be everything for everyone.  And I just can’t keep it up.

So tonight, I don’t have answers or any bright ideas of how to make English Language Arts in 7th grade more joyful.  More about the community, the experience, and not just about the learning.  Because this age group deserves joy.  Deserves the very best teachers they can have.  Deserves so much than what I feel like I am.  In the past, when I felt like I wasn’t a good teacher, I changed.  I wonder how I will change this time?  I wonder what lies ahead…

18 thoughts on “I Used to Be a Fun Teacher”

  1. Pernille,
    Even when you feel like you might not be the teacher you think you should be, you are still an inspiration. Your words and thoughts that you continue to share with the world continue to inspire me. The idea that we need to make learning a joy for all students is what all educators need to keep in mind. And that none of us are perfect and we will all have those days…when we are feeling just like you are tonight.
    You have inspired me in so many ways…just like I am sure that you continue to inspire your students, even when you feel like you’re not.
    I started a blog because of you. Although I haven’t posted anything since last summer, it’s ok. I will get to posting more when the time is right for me. I read every one of your posts and participate in the global read aloud. I see that PAX will be the book to read for my fifth grade class next year, so I started reading it this year with my class and they absolutely love it. It is a very powerful and moving text to share with a class of students and the discussions and conversations that my students are having are incredible. You have inspired me in so many ways to always strive to make education about the students and not about the curriculum, standards and testing.
    Thank you for all that you do.

  2. Since I get to spend much more time in the company of fifth graders than you can with seventh graders this may seem like hollow encouragement. But, I sincerely believe that you will find a way to get back to a place where joy is front and center because you consistently advocate for putting our children front and center. Even though I have never been in a classroom with middle schoolers, I have experienced the wonders of parenting two children who navigated the ups and downs of middle school. The teachers they loved were the teachers that loved them. I imagine that while you might not feel like you are the ‘fun’ teacher rigjt now, I bet the students know you love them.

  3. I don’t know that you need to be the fun teacher all the time. I think you can continue to be the teacher that cares, the teacher who makes her learning space free of stresses, a space where it’s safe to ask questions. The joy will emerge. It always does when there is genuine caring, as you continue to demonstrate with your blog.

  4. Tonight, as I drove home from my newly reformed, rigorous classroom setting, where I now teach to the new high expectations, I thought about my memories of third grade -the year I became a serious student who loved school. I remembered my really fun third grade teachers who allowed me relax in a reading loft to explore my C.S. Lewis obsession, and who asked me to write a poem in iambic pentameter to help me remember facts about the solar system for science class (yup, iambic pentameter, in public school, in third grade, in the years when our nation was so at risk). Those were the same teachers who, to my frustration, partnered me with a student I had never met – a boy with cerebral palsy who used a wheelchair – who was also the only guy in the school who could frustrate me because he outscored me in math. I wish I could be a fun teacher like Mrs. Lester and Mrs. Zoolig. But tomorrow I will be giving yet another high stakes test…

  5. There’s always a cycle of fun and serious, I think. I’m at the point of the year where I feel like I’m slipping away from some of the joy. But being aware means we can be active about finding it again. And joy comes in so many forms. Relaxing your brain, not thinking about it for a while, and letting something come. Teaching desperately fast but keeping a smile.
    Let’s find some joy.

  6. You are speaking of my world. It is so hard to stay focused on what really matters…each student. Instead my focus is testing, raising reading scores, Educator Effectiveness, Professional Learning Goals and other duties as assigned by my administration.

    There is joy, just not quite enough to keep me powered up.

  7. Thank you for sharing not just your great moments, but also your hard ones. This week is one of those weeks when my memories of how I’ve made a difference to students in past years aren’t enough to sustain me as I think about all the ways I wish I were a better teacher to this year’s class. It means a lot to know that teachers I admire (you!) also struggle.

  8. I have felt that way this year…until the last two weeks when I threw some things out the window and decided to do a project related to the standards we are currently learning. The energy in my classroom as been amazing and I’ve seen unmotivated kids become motivated, and kids engaged and excited about learning. There has to be a way to have that all year and still cover what needs to be covered….flipped classroom? I don’t have an answer either but I would like to find it!!!!

  9. I’m not sure I was ever the “fun” teacher, but I feel like I was a better teacher to my middle schoolers than my high schoolers for some of the same reasons you describe. I just don’t feel like I clicked with many of my students this year or able to motivate them. Some years are like that. So we reflect, forgive ourselves, focus on the good we did, and try new things next year. That’s one of the great things about teaching — a clean slate every year!

  10. It’s helpful to know, that you and so many others, reflect and struggle to be better teachers than we think ourselves to be.

  11. I completely understand the inherent struggle and tension you feel between attending to the climate of your classroom and attending to the standard of learning you feel is important. In fact, I wrote a similar post–not really reflecting on being “fun” but more feeling uncomfortable within the rigid system you describe. I’m coming from the ELA secondary classroom, and many of your current struggles between grades vs. feedback and schedule vs. flexibility are so close to my own. Hope this helps us figure out the next step together.

  12. A good teacher is an engaged teacher – the students buy into the teacher long before the teaching; remember that!

  13. It’s encouraging to know I’m not the only one who feels this tension! I used to be the fun teacher too! I’m not new to 7th grade, but I am relatively new to reader’s workshop. Over the past few years, I’ve been so focused on learning the method that at times I’ve lost sight of the heart behind it! I also teach 45-minute classes, and the time crunch is real. You wrote in a different post about the idea that less is more, and that mindset (inspired by you) has helped me many times this year to take a deep breath, look around at my students, and enjoy the moment. Thank you for blogging!

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