being a teacher, being me

Who Keeps You In Line?

On Friday, I stood on the stage at EARCOS in front of hundreds of passionate educators from all over Asia and told them my story of change.  The story of how my students have changed me. It was met with applause, with careful words shared after about how they felt inspired, moved, how what I had said mattered and how they wish more educators had been there to hear this powerful message.  I felt on top of the world.  As if I mattered, as if the words I spoke mattered, as if I had made a difference.  Like I had it all figured out.


Today, some of my students reminded me that our class is boring, that what we are doing doesn’t matter much, and that no, they were not happy to be back after spring break, thank you very much.  Ah, the life of teaching 7th grade.

So much changes in a few days.; from high praise, hugs, and admiration from fellow educators to sometimes harsh words served up frankly from the very students I serve.

It seems that I am not the perfect teacher after all, but I knew that already, even before today, because I teach students who speak up.  Who sometimes forget to say the nice before they get straight to the point.  Who have no problem pointing out what they dislike, but still are working on how we can make things better together.  Who, yes, sometimes like our class, but often push me to be better, to try harder, to keep thinking.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

In fact, if it weren’t for my own students, I wonder how much of the hype I would end up believing.  Probably all of it.  After all, it is hard not to believe someone when they tell you just how much you matter and how great of a teacher you seem.  And yet, it is easy to say someone is a great teacher, coach, administrator, fill in the blank, when you are not in their classroom or schools.

And so I wonder what happens when we don’t have the presence of those we serve to put us straight.  When we leave the classroom, or the school, or the job and no longer are in touch with those who our words affect the most.  When we only hear the good but don’t get a lot of bad?

What happens when our great ideas no longer really have to stand the test of time?  When our great ideas and “just do’s” don’t actually have to face the test of our own classrooms?

How do we keep ourselves in check if all we get is admiration?  Who brings us back down to Earth to remind us of how teaching continues to be a challenge, even when we think we have it all figured out.

I see it play out in social media all of the time.  From the inspirational tweets that seem more quippy the older I get.  From the followers that rush in to excuse any old statement someone makes because surely they didn’t mean to sound like an idiot, or condescending, or like a know it all.  To how we end up equating followers and likes with quality, with actual work, with some being “rockstars” or somehow better than “just” the regular educators.  How we constantly seek inspiration to be just like those who forget to share their failures, who somehow appear more than the rest of us.

I think it is a dangerous thing.  I think it is too easy to take oneself too seriously.  I think it is easy to write about only the good and not share the bad.  I think it is really easy to compose posts, tweets, or pictures that only tell half the story.  Yet, showing off flaws, off failures, off the not so great is what makes us all human.  Is what makes us actually relatable as educators.  I have never claimed to be a perfect teacher, nor will I ever, my students would tell you that there are great moments, and then there are boring ones, just like in most classroom.

And so for that, I am grateful.  For their honesty, I am thankful.  Because if it weren’t for my students, it would be easy to think that I was more than I am; just a teacher still trying to figure out how to become better.  Not someone who already knows it all.

So who keeps you in line?  And how do you grow from their words?

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.

4 thoughts on “Who Keeps You In Line?”

  1. Yuuuuuup. Actually having to do the work, to watch the ideas fly or crash or just stagger around, that’s what keeps it real and in focus. To tell my student teacher “ok, in theory all the discipline plan we need is to stay interesting, however that’s a massive oversimplification so let’s brainstorm other alternatives too.” I love the whiplash of killing it at a conference then coming back to a class in shambles because I accidently wrote that they could have an hour straight of silent reading time instead of ten minutes and the sub didn’t try to correct anything.

  2. What an important message. I recently returned to public school teaching after running my own tutoring business. It’s hard. I’ve been an elementary teacher, literacy coach, and now I’m an intervention teacher. I used to think that “people like me” had it easy but am finding out that, in order to meet each student’s needs, I have to hear “This is easy” from 5th graders who may or may not mean it, and I have to figure out if they’re just covering up for not knowing or truly need more challenging work. It’s always the students who keep me in check. They don’t care about degrees or Twitter feeds. They don’t care that you woke up at midnight to make a note on a sticky so you don’t forget that great warm-up activity that will really hook them. They care about how they feel and they care about not feeling like they aren’t as smart as the other kids.

  3. That’s why your presentations to other educators are so helpful and even inspirational——because you are living the life in a real school, teaching real kids everyday——so I know that what you say to a group has merit and credibility——it’s real, not ivory tower. Thanks for all you write and share. Looking forward to your next talk/presentation at NerdCampMI in July. .

  4. I love this post…. I have been reading through your “old” posts and this one speaks to me. So many times the voices in education, sending out hundreds of tweets with thousands of followers, are people no longer in the classroom and not “walking the walk.” What makes you so refreshing to me is that you still walk the walk. You are an inspiration.

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