I’ve read articles that describe social media as one of the reasons that teenagers have self-esteem issues partially because of how others portray their lives and images as perfect and happy all the time. Images are filtered to the max, blemishes are removed with the touch of a finger, and friends look happy and untroubled. Therefore, teenagers start to think that there is something wrong with them when they don’t feel as perfect as the social media posts from their friends. I believe this same concept can be applied to many different areas, including the field of education. We read edu-leadership blogs where the writers sound prophetic and tweets that describe amazing ways that students are learning in a classroom and we compare our days to these posts and begin to wonder where in the world we are going wrong.
I had these days when I was a teacher. Days that I was exhausted or had come to school sick and was praying that we could have an extended independent reading time just to get me through my morning. One year, and I’m not even kidding, I actually woke up late for a grade-level fieldtrip and missed the bus. I often felt like I was screwing up way more than I was actually making a difference, but I loved my kids, and did the best I could possibly do. There are so many things that I have learned that I wish I could take back into the classroom. Places I feel I failed my kids in some way, but not intentionally, just because I really didn’t know any better. I was not a perfect teacher. Allow me to prove it to you.
It’s my job to make you social
When I taught, I did not understand the difference between having introverted and extroverted kids. I knew there was a difference, I just thought that my job was to take the introverted and make them more social. How could they not want to constantly be working with others? This is especially ironic since I was an extremely shy child myself, you might have thought I would have understood this. It wasn’t until a friend of mine explained his introvertedness to me that I finally got it, and by that time I was no longer in the classroom. Looking back, I had one student in particular who was an incredibly smart kid. Sometimes, we would be doing group projects and he would ask to do it by himself. I remember telling him, “Buddy, you need to be able to work with others. I know you don’t like it all the time, but it’s important that you learn with your groupmates.” One time I felt so bad for him that he was struggling with the kids that he worked with that I allowed him to work alone and what he produced blew me away. Still, the next time, I asked him to work in a group again. Social skills I called it. While I will stand by that all students need to be able to work with others, why I could not see that he was an introvert and needed to work on his own sometimes for his best thinking I’ll never be able to explain. I wish I would have been able to recognize this need in this student and others and adjust to them instead of creating a situation where they were forced to adjust to me.
Lack of shared professional practice
I was always willing to collaborate. The last district in which I taught I regularly collaborated with the people in my same grade level. We would discuss where we were in the curriculum and where we needed to go. We brought up specific students and their needs, and tried to bounce ideas off each other for how we could improve behavior or academics for those kids. What I totally missed, however, was that in every position I’ve been in, there have been absolutely phenomenal teachers that I never watched teach. I worked with teachers who created deeply rooted relationships with kids, others who could teach a classic novel like nobody’s business, and some who had a way with kids with negative behaviors. I missed out on opportunities to study what others do great, and to really improve my own practice for my students. And, because I wasn’t a connected educator at all at the time, I was actually learning very little from other people unless it was in the form of professional development through the district or books I read. In this regard, I failed both myself and my students.
The kids who flew under my radar
There is no doubt that my neediest kids were the ones who got the majority of my attention. Whether it was academically, socially or behaviorally, the ones who demanded it or needed it were the first I planned for and the first I checked on. While I do feel like I challenged my highest flyers, there were some kids that did what they were supposed to do, took on every challenge and did it well, never asked too many questions and didn’t demand my attention. In retrospect, I rarely gave these kids my undivided attention. When I taught, I used to tell myself that these kids could get by on their own with only my guidance, but just because they didn’t act needy, didn’t mean they didn’t need me. These kids were missed opportunities for solid connections. While I feel like, as a teacher, I have always placed a high value on relationships, I missed the boat with some of these kids because they were self-sufficient, which isn’t a great reason to not get the attention you deserve.
When I look back at my classroom career, I am proud of what I had accomplished, but there were so many areas that I could have improved and so many places I failed. I was definitely not perfect. I am experiencing similar failures as an administrator. When reflecting on my first year as an admin, it was all I could do to not put my head in my hands or bang my head against my desk for some of the decisions I made. I have learned from each mistake I’ve made, however, and I do believe that as long as I continue to recognize the areas I needed to be better and adjust my course from where I fail, I can only continue to learn and grow and be better in my profession.