For a while, I have been noticing a trend in my Twitter feed, or rather what Twitter wants me to see. If I ever cross into “Moments” or “Search” it seems that the same white males keep popping up with Twitter telling me that if I follow education then I surely must be interested in their statements. At times, it is right, many who are no longer in the classroom have fascinating ideas to share, research to ponder, and resources to go through. And yet, there are times, and seemingly more so recently, that who I am supposed to be learning from in education keeps being the same white, male, non-classroom teachers that keep telling me, this classroom teacher, what I need to do to be the perfect teacher.
I have quietly rolled my eyes. Seethed a little. Showed friends how funny it is that it seems to be the same people that others also see when I ask them to cross into that stream. At times I have been baffled by the statements shared, even if well-meaning, as they seem to be written more with a re-tweet in mind than any actual learning.
This morning, as I leisurely browsed Twitter on my vacation, I came across this statement.
A pretty typical example of the platitudes that are served up daily to all of us educators who spend time on social media. Often, statements like this get liked thousands of times, retweeted to the nth degree. Shared as if this is the gospel truth, pushing teachers to finally realize that they should teach as if they actually care about their job. Seemingly wanting us, in this case, to finally realize that since everything is controlled by teachers, then surely we could create the most engaging student experience if we just worked a little harder.
Can we stop for a moment and unpack this just a little?
I used to lose sleep over how I seemingly failed my students. How even though I spent hours planning engaging lessons, how even though I brought my very best, how even though I walked so many steps in the classroom checking in with each student that my knees and hips hurt at the end of the day, it didn’t always seem to matter. That every day there seemed to be at least one kid who was quick to tell me just how bored they were. How much they didn’t like what we were doing. How much they wished they were somewhere else.
Despite my planning.
Despite my strategies.
Despite my positive urgency to reach all children.
And so when these supposed thought leaders, who seem to be fairly removed from the day to day experience of what it really means to teach, then tell us that everything our students experience is controllable by us, I cannot help but wonder how many teachers end up feeling like failures just like I did. Despite all of the work they have done. Despite everything they are striving to be on a day to day basis. Despite how much they already pour of themselves into this profession because we know how much it matters.
How is that furthering anything good for educators? Because the teacher guilt is a real thing. Because teacher burnout from not feeling like we are enough is a real thing. Because we already work in a profession that at times is showcased as everything that is wrong with this country.
It is hard to sometimes believe you are of any kind of worth when you are constantly reminded of all the things you should be doing if only you were a great teacher. In fact, last year, I expressed my regret to students in how I seemed to fail to engage them all during a particular unit and that I wished I was a better teacher for them. How I was really trying and yet seemed to not live up to the high expectation I had placed for myself. In that moment of vulnerability, I will never forget what several students told me.
It’s not your fault, Mrs. Ripp, sometimes we just don’t want to.
It’s not your fault, Mrs. Ripp, because we are kids and it is natural that we don’t always like school.
It’s not your fault, Mrs. Ripp, because we need to bring it too…
They need to bring it too.
I love the wisdom of kids.
Because that’s it. While we, as educators, should bring our very best every single day. While we, as educators, should plan engaging lessons for all. While we, as educators, should teach as if every moment matters – because it does – we are not enough.
We have to have a partnership with students when it comes to their engagement. To their empowerment. To their investment into our classrooms. We have to bring our best and expect our students to bring their best as well. We have to have an agreement with students that we will all try to rise to the occasion together, and that there will be days where that may not happen. And that does not mean we have failed, but just that we will try again the next day.
My job is not to entertain my students, my job is to teach, and while the two are not mutually exclusive, I have to continually remind myself of what my purpose is as the teacher in the room; to help them become more invested, engaged, and critical participants and creators of their own educational experience. That does not just rest on my shoulders, but the shoulders of our students as well. We start conversations about what real learning looks like and then we set the expectation of how we will provide the foundation for them to stand on, but that they must do the building. Sometimes with us and sometimes without. That we can only bring our very best but then it is up to them to make it matter. To make it worth their time. That for them to have the very best educational experience, they have to invest as well. Sometimes despite the seemingly insurmountable odds, they face in life.
To think that I, as the teacher in the room, controls all of their attention and levels of engagement is simply false. It supports the notion that students are mere pawns and not there as active investors in their own learning. It supports the notion that school is something we do to children rather than something they experience.
So what if instead of listening to some who may have great things to share but are not actually doing it themselves, and haven’t for a really long time, we instead had conversations with students about how we can increase engagement and attention in our classrooms? How about instead of pretending that everything is under the control of teachers, we actually realized that the very best classrooms are those where students share the control and thus have to invest to actually learn?
Because frankly, I don’t need more people outside of the day-to-day realities of what it means to be in a profession that is constantly attacked for not being enough, telling me how I need to do more. To that I say; come teach again, then we can discuss it, my students and I have plenty to share.
If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child Also consider joining our book club study of it, kicking off June 17th. 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.