From Definitive to Confident in the Classroom

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Last year I went to DisneyWorld.  I could not believe the long lines for rides.  While some of the lines were definitely not worth the wait (Haunted Mansion I’m looking at you), other rides (Splash Mountain) were definitely worth the wait.  This wild ride of teaching has been more than worth the wait and has exceeded my lofty expectations.

When I first started teaching, I felt like I wanted to make everything definitive.  I think this was a mind hack on my part to convince myself I was doing the right thing.

For instance, I would make these definitive statements like, “Group work is the only way to go.”  “Technology in the classroom is vital.”  “He must do these 100 sentences to learn his lesson.”  It is quite comical looking back on it.  It is also quite sad, because what did I know at that young age?  I was trying to fit every one of my students, every one of my lessons, and, yes, every one of my decisions in this nice, little black and white box.  

We all know life doesn’t work that way, and a student and their background is so much more complex.

Now if this was just a me problem, that would be one thing.  Unfortunately, I see this same mistake being repeated over and over again in education today.  Social media is not helping out.  In the rush to put out a great sound bite in a tweet, facebook post, or blog entry we often box our opinions into a corner as the only definitive approach to education.

We see this often with the latest and greatest “flavor of the day” in the education world.  Definitive statements begin to flow.  “Maker spaces are the only way for students to feel empowered.”  “There is no better way to learn than in a PLC!”  “Identifying a fixed mindset is a game changer.”  

I’m pretty sure I can see the collective eye roll of all of my readers.

In our race to a definitive statement, we minimize the actual importance of the given topic we are reflecting on.  

Ultimately, I came to the realization that my confidence was the thing that needed the most boosting without the use of a definitive statement.

Thankfully, I can now definitely say, there is always room to grow.  That is the funny thing about growth.  For when we grow, so does our confidence.

What My 88-Year-Old Grandma Taught Me about Teaching (and Life)

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Teaching is not rocket science, nor is pretty much anything else in life.  I read a book years ago where the authors explained some of the most complicated ideas, inventions, and concepts using only the the 500 most common words in the English language.  It was fascinating to see something like nuclear thermodynamics explained in such common, ordinary language.   

So there I was, sitting at a kitchen table, talking to my 88 year-old grandma about life.  I was soaking it all in as we have so few opportunities to catch up in person.  We were talking about history (of course) specifically World War II era and the Great Depression.  We were talking about how folks can have a positive mindset even through unfathomable circumstances.  Then she shared something so profound and so simple that I had to make a note of it.

“Today may be awful, but tomorrow could be wonderful.”

While I’m sure my grandma had her share of awful days, you would never know it.  She is always positive and always encouraging.  

Obviously this quote is a wonderful quote about life, but so much of teaching is simply about life.  Teaching is partly, if not mainly, about building character and grit and toughness and patience and empathy in these students that God has blessed us with in our classroom.  Clearly we have much content to convey as well, but the content of our character is just as important as learning the date of the invasion of Normandy.

You would be lying to yourself (and others) if you said your year of teaching was perfect.  Who are we fooling!  There were so many moments where I wished I could have a mulligan.  There were so many days where I was left wondering if I taught that lesson effectively.  

Teaching is all about having awful days.

But teaching is also about conveying the idea that tomorrow can be wonderful.  

We mess up.  We forgive.  We make a mistake.  We learn.  Repeat, repeat, repeat.

My Dad asked if we could pick up some lunch for my grandma.  She enthusiastically exclaimed, can we get McDonalds!  You would’ve thought she was about to mention a pancake breakfast (our favorite), at her favorite restaurant, as she spoke with such happiness.  No, it was simply, “I would love a frappe!”  Even when we have an awful day, something so simple as a frappe can bring such a smile. 

It is good for us to remember and remind our students that even on our most awful of days, we have something so wonderful waiting for us… heaven. 

Bring Your History and Science to Life!

In. this video, I analyze the benefits of learning content in-depth vs. surface learning.  Enjoy!  Feel free to share any thoughts in the comments below.

Connecting God’s Word to Novel Reading

In my current Literature I and Literature II classes. we are reading the novels, Summer of Riley and The Last Book in the Universe.  Both of these novels focus on the sacrifice of the main character.

To introduce the climax of both novels, we examined the sacrifice in a classic biblical story.  We focused on the brith of Moses and the sacrifice of his mother.

One of the biggest advantages to teaching in a WELS school is the ability to connect God’s Word with the entire curriculum.  It is so much more meaningful when that connection can happen in a relevant way.