It has been building for a while. This idea that teachers need to “just” innovate more. That we need to break the system, try a new idea every day. That we need to just do more. Just do it better. Just be more.
But that little word “just” has such a huge implication.
It tells me that what I am doing is not already innovative.
That what I am doing is not enough.
That I am not good enough, nor enough for the very kids I teach.
That if I only would “just” be a better teacher then perhaps all kids would run into my classroom with a smile on their face and beg me not to send them home.
But I teach real live children who have friendships, and emotions, and families, and lives to live and so no, I don’t get offended when they don’t run into my classroom, I look for the small acknowledgments that what we do matters, rather than the big empty promises of a smile that may or not be plastered on for my benefit.
And the thing is, I do innovate. Educators and administrators do every single day. When we see a child not getting what they are meant to learn, I am innovating on the spot trying to problem solve a situation with a child I may or may not know very well and come up with a solution so that this child can feel like what we are doing at this very moment matters to them.
And I am innovating when I lesson plan and I pull my own resources, my own expertise, my tried-and-true, and find those from others and I take into account the story of every single child I teach, 100 and counting, and I try to create lessons that they will have power over, that they will be invested in, that they will remember. And then I repeat it for the next day.
And I am innovating when a child tells me their truth, that school is not for them and I ask them what I can do to be a better teacher, to make this a place they want to come to.
And I am innovating when I sit with colleagues and we problem-solve and we ask each other how we can reach every child and make sure every child has a chance of success.
And I am innovating when I speak to those at home and ask how I can be more for their child.
But that doesn’t count as innovative in many “experts” eyes. I am not flipping my classroom, or doing blended learning, or even bringing in new technology that is sure to blow my student’s minds.
My classroom has tables, and ratty bean bags, and yoga balls that deflate from too many wild bounces. My classroom has books, not digital ones, but the ones with paper that allow children to pass them on to each other when they know they need to share their experience with someone else who will get it.
My classroom has Chromebooks and we use them to bring the stories of others in. We use them to bring our stories out. We use them to make sense of the world that sometimes seems so senseless.
Every day we try to make count. Every day, we hope these kids entrusted to us will have a great experience, will learn something, will be something more than when they came. We innovate every day, but you don’t see it if you don’t look for it.
And yet we are told as teachers over and over to do more. To be more. Because the more that we are doing is not enough. If we “just” embraced innovation and took a risk. Finally tried something new. Then, maybe then, all kids would finally love school.
It is a race none of us can win, and yet we keep on running, hoping that someday we will have it figured out. And so we innovate quietly before we go to sleep, when we wake up in the middle of the night, when we drive to work when we take our lunch break.
So I ask those who tell us these things who are no longer in the classroom. And I don’t mean just out of touch administrators because I would say that the administrators that I know innovate every single day on their feet long after I get to go home, but anyone who has forgotten what it means to be a teacher. What it means to juggle hundreds of things every single day, well knowing that the very future of this country lies within our hands.
Come be in our classroom and innovate alongside us. Not for a day, anyone can make it a day in 7th Grade English. Come for a week, a month. Come tell me how to be more and then tell me what I no longer need to do, because it has been a while since that has happened.
Come be with us. Show us what innovation can look like but stop using the word “just.” Just implies easy, as if I don’t want to be more. Just implies that it is something I am choosing not to do.
Teaching is an art, we can hope to do it well by the time we retire. It is a permanent pursuit of innovation that many would not be able to do. Perhaps that is why so many choose to leave. Some to teach others their best ideas, others to tell us what to do without remembering what it means to actually do it. I, for one, am staying, are you?
If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017. This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block. If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students. Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.