Nearing the End

It’s that bitter-sweet time of year again, where I am so proud of my students’ accomplishments: their risk, failures, successes, and in all the ways they’ve learned and grown. No matter how exciting it is to see kids move on to the next grade, it’s also an incredibly emotional time. Next week, we have our fifth graders graduate and move on to various middle schools. Despite it being close to the end, it’s an amazingly busy time for everyone, including students. As teachers, we only have a certain amount of time with them, and then it’s over. We have to make each moment count. One thing a few of us do this time of year is have students reflect on their growth and create portfolios of some of the work they’ve done through the year and then share these with their parents. I like this for several reasons:

1) The kids take ownership of the evaluation process.

2) Both students and parents can see, through the actual work of their children, what they can and cannot do.

3) Through the students’ reflection of their work, parents can start a conversation about effort, motivation, future goals, etc.

4) Kids can convey so much when they talk about their work and we can learn so much from them.

5) It provides evidence of work and learning, that letter grades can’t. (Even written narratives have their limits)

6) It is rigorous work.

7) Students are highly motivated to show off their work.

Speaking of reflections, I haven’t been able to keep up with the Ralph Waldo Emerson inspired reflection per day. Instead, I’ll just copy the next 4 quotes below, not even mention the prompts, and write one reflection.

Life wastes itself while we are preparing to live. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

There will be an agreement in whatever variety of actions, so they be each honest and natural in their hour. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, that is genius. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Imitation is Suicide. Insist on yourself; never imitate. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

What would I say to the person I’m going to be five years from now? Wherever you end up, be it the same place because you love it, or  trying something new because you believe you can make a larger positive impact, stay true to yourself and your beliefs about education. Make sure, however, those beliefs are informed. Don’t base them solely on data you can neatly fit on a spreadsheet, nor simply because ‘it has always been done this way. ‘Don’t base those beliefs just because you have a ‘feeling’ about them. Use data, feelings, and even tradition as starting points, but use the evidence you see in front of you. Do what you think is right because you believe it is the right thing to do, not because you are told to do it. Always remember Emerson’s quote, “Imitation is Suicide.” Lead. Don’t follow. 

Learning from New Teachers

When I was asked several years ago to serve on one of the boards at the College of Education at Seattle University, there was only one possible response I could give, “Of course!” While the courses varied when I went to grad school there several years ago, one thing that the college stayed true to was their commitment to service, diversity, and social justice.

I just returned from one of my favorite meetings there, because I have the privilege to be part of a team with other board members and professors to assess the portfolios of graduate candidates. It’s one of my favorite evenings because I get to see other passionate teachers who take their scholarship and learning seriously, I get to see others go through a very rigorous and reflective process, but most of all I get to learn from all these educators who are committed to growth, learning, and becoming better at their craft.

I’m about half-way through my career as an educator, but there is so much to learn from new teachers. The world they have grown up in is significantly different from the one I grew up in, and they have expertise in areas that I don’t. Sure, experience counts for a lot, but only if you’re still willing to learn and grow.

A fire was lit anew a few years ago when I read the books, Mindset by Carol Dweck and Drive by Daniel Pink. Perhaps my motivation to grow as a teacher has been a little intense at times, but it is who I am. Having worked tonight with such talented, committed, and passionate new teachers, I have a renewed sense of urgency to learn from the expertise of our young and able teachers.

It’s a tough economic time to be a young teacher, but listening to these teachers talk about what they will take away from grad school and bring back to their students and classrooms reignites my optimism in education.