I have a student who signs all of her emails to me “Stay Funky Fresh.” I’m not sure why I love it as much as I do…but I do. This post is in honor of her, because she is the kind of student who pushes me to not just draw upon my 13 years of experience in the classroom, but to also challenge myself to change and grow all the time. That is how I’ve decided to interpret the meaning of the term: “funky fresh.”
One of my goals this year is to blog more about this wonderfully, exhausting craft of teaching. I have found myself in what seems likely to be near the middle of my teaching career. I still very much remember my first years of teaching. The excitement of seeing names on a roster, writing on the white board, trying to find ways to make history accessible, relevant, and meaningful for my students, and, far too often, falling asleep in my work clothes with a half eaten dinner on the table and tomorrow’s lesson plan on the computer. It was both incredibly hard and exhilarating. It still is.
I also remember the old guard who looked warily at bright-eyed newbies like myself (though I started teaching at 30) who were so full of enthusiasm and new ideas (or newly packaged old ideas) that would “transform the classroom” and create “21st century learners.” Now, at 43, I am, or am becoming, that old guard. I try to be intentional about remembering my first years of teaching and how, in some ways, my ignorance of all that I still had to learn, kept me going. I try to remember the feeling of defeat that came from the experienced teachers who started most responses with something like, “That’ll never work because…” or “You are doing too much.” In some cases, they were trying to help me learn how to care for myself. I appreciate that…and still need people to remind me that a perfect lesson is often just as good as a good lesson when you have kept the students in the forefront of your planning. Yet, other teachers were tired and resented the energy of the newly hired because they didn’t want to face that they no longer could put the time and energy they used to into their craft because they started a PhD program or had two kids or whatever other good reason they had. And then there was the others…I won’t spend much time on the others. Those who never had the energy and started their careers for the 8am-3pm day and summers off. I won’t talk about them because they are exceedingly rare…powerful culture crushers…but rare.
So as I enter my 14th year of teaching I am committed more than ever to uncovering the wonder of the adolescence. I want to find ways to make my experience useful without using it as a stick to beat the energy and joy out of new teachers. In the spirit of the serenity prayer, I want to be granted the serenity to accept new ideas as possible, have the courage to speak from my experience, and the wisdom to know when which is needed.