I was lucky to attend Matt Miller’s keynote address in Virginia Beach- and I do feel that I was blessed to hear him speak. First, let me say that Matt is an AMAZING speaker. Many teachers bemoan that it is August, but on August 2nd, I could have started teaching the next day, and I would have been happy about it. (Not that I am complaining about a few extra beach days…!) If you ever have a chance to hear Matt speak, GO! Don’t hesitate at all!
Not only is Matt great because he used to be a Spanish teacher, but he also has all of the stories that all of us do. For example, he remembers parent teacher conferences where the parents always tell you about how they took 3 years of the language and don’t know it. There was the riveting story about reflexive verbs. I was tweeting a lot of it, but I wish he would have just said “record this part and play it back to yourself over and over again”. Some of my favorite truth bombs included:
- “Coffee first, then risk taking.”
- “Try to solve problems and fail at solving them. But don’t give up! Then, repeat, repeat, repeat and repeat again.”
- “Find your imperfection, sloppiness and chaos and feel ok with them.”
- “Expose inadequacy, then model how to deal with inadequacy with your students.”
It was amazing, inspiring, and everything I was expecting and more. He also expanded on an idea I have been mulling over all summer. Matt discusses how much risk teachers must take and how scary it can be. This touches on something I have been mulling over all summer.
Overall, I want to become more aware of this as I evolve as a teacher. Taking risks comes somewhat naturally to me, and I am lucky to have the support of my administration. I have taught in 4 different schools, and I have always had administrators who support what I have done. However, this is not how everyone in teaching feels. I believe we need empathy for all teachers- whether or not you perceive them as risk takers. It can be easy to become frustrated if you feel like other teachers aren’t evolving like you want or not taking the same risks that you are. But that isn’t their reality. And again, their teaching is not about you.
Recently, I have noticed on social media that some people make comments about what “great teachers” always do. Sometimes, it is thrown in there that “average teachers” don’t do that. Many people feel positive about this experience. They think- yeah! Here I am spending my summer developing as a professional. I am a great teacher! But I have to worry about those who aren’t doing whatever great teachers are “supposed” to do. Do they feel even worse about it? I also worry that the narrative in teachers’ heads eventually becomes “well THOSE teachers aren’t great because they aren’t doing this thing.” That further extends the gap and won’t get anyone anywhere.
Finally, I am concerned about the pressure teachers feel to always be great. To always be on, always have your best lesson prepared, to always have your classroom Instagram ready! It is a lot- and it can seem that everyone else is excelling while you aren’t. I believe a lot of teachers on social media are becoming aware of this and making sure to highlight REAL, and not just your highlight reel. Inevitably some of these messages come along about great teaching, and you can feel even worse.
My hope through all of this is that we stop labeling teachers as great, average, or below average. If you are a risk-taker like me, have empathy for teachers who aren’t perceived risk-takers. Figure out ways to support and reach them. If you feel like you are not excelling when everyone else is, remember that isn’t true. Take time for yourself. This will help everyone continue to work and succeed.