Shifting Priorities

by danielagins

When I was an undergrad at Keene State College I vividly remember sitting in my ESEC320 (social studies methods) class doing an assignment that included something to the effect of projecting where you wanted to be professionally within five years. The professor in this class was one of the select few teachers in my life who inspired me by simply “doing it right.” It seems, upon reflection, that most of my inspiration to do what I do came from teachers who, I felt, were doing it wrong. I wanted to become a teacher to balance out the cosmos – being good at what I do because I had learned what not to do from them. That is a different post for another time. The more I try to recall this assignment that I was doing way back in the fall semester of 2000, the more I realize that I don’t vividly recall it so much as I remember one certain aspect of it. I remember thinking a reasonable goal for myself was to be named Time Magazine’s Teacher of The Year within five years of getting my first job teaching. I cringe at the cockiness of my younger, more ignorant self. However, I must admit that my narcissistic goal never really went away.

I started at Pawcatuck Middle School in 2004 as the 8th grade social studies teacher. It was my second year as a professional, but in my eyes it was a fresh start. The year before (03-04) I taught high school special education in a neighboring town. It was one of the worst experiences of my life for numerous reasons (the least of which were the students, for what its worth . . . I still am in contact with several of them). Pawcatuck was a new start. With this new start I renewed my Teacher of The Year goal in my head. It became an added extrinsic motivation. I was always intrinsically motivated to be a good teacher, and for whatever selfish flaw in human nature, I thought being Teacher of The Year would be my validation. To be clear, I did not wake up each day and think “I want that title, so I will put the extra work into my lessons and I will artificially create bonds with students simply to obtain this title.” But I would be lying if I said it wasn’t sometimes the extra push to keep going. Then things began to change. A sense of professionalism began to grow inside me. The desire for trophies and titles subsided. Soon after things really began to change. I discovered Twitter.

Twitter has helped me to find people who have pushed me into a whole new realm of thinking. I still have a hard time using the term PLN in reference to my network, because to me that implies a collaborative effort and, to date, I have consumed from the trough of knowledge much more than I have contributed, all banal things aside. It is hard not to see Twitter as a modern-day/grown up/professional card shop. When I was a kid I half heartedly collected baseball and basketball cards. I would save money from my paper route and go down to the local card shop and buy packs of cards (usually “skybox”, which in hindsight were the ugliest things imaginable. Picture the artificial laser background option for school photos in the early 90’s and add a superimposed poorly photoshopped player on top, devoid of any context).

so ugly

Obviously the great players of the moment were highly sought after and then placed either in the sleeves of protective binders or in the individual hard plastic cases, either way to be shown off. My friends and I would then gather to discuss who “we had.” There are some connections to Twitter here, in that for a while it was all about “who I followed.” I would look at my sidebar at the avatars and feel like I was cool because I “had” some important educational technology guru. It was my modern-day card binder. Like I said, an online grown-up card shop. Thankfully this thinking has also begun to shift. Sorry for the digression of the real topic, but this is a live-stream-of-consciousness post (that I am mostly writing for myself, anyways).

Returning to my point . . . the individuals I have been learning from online have done more to reboot my professionalism and my philosophy on education than any book I have read in the last several years. Probably because I was not that interested in educational theory and, instead, read content related political science/philosophy type books. Thankfully you all have been keeping up with the pedagogical theory and are able to reduce it to a concise 140 with helpful links. The bottom line is that I have awoken from my slumber and have been recharged and energized and inspired to change. Through you all I have seen where it is I want to be and what I really need to be doing in my classroom. I am constantly measuring myself against your tweets. I feel that I have a lot of room to grow. I call my own practices into question much more. I have always been a self-doubter, which in my opinion can be a very good attribute, and connecting with other educators who are doing amazing things has only served to enhance that doubt in myself. Finding the “doubting balance” is key, though. Too much doubt is paralyzing and counterproductive.

At this exact moment in my career, to use a poor sailing regatta analogy, I have rounded the first bouy and feel as if I am moving downwind with a healthy dose of doubt in my sails. I can see where I want to be and where I need to be and I know the route I will use to get there. But I am not yet there. And then the winds shift. Yesterday I was nominated for Teacher of The Year in my district. I was called into the lunchroom during 8th grade lunch and the committee made the announcement in front of all of my students. I was thoroughly embarrassed because, I frankly feel that I do not deserve it. The goal I had set for myself upon the start of my career became attainable (it is my 6th year) after I made up my mind that I no longer wanted it. I feel that I may have potential for the title a few years from now, when I am putting into practice the pedagogical beliefs I hold now. But to receive the nomination now, based on potential alone, is very much like Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize so early in his term. I voted for him and generally support him, but still question the wisdom of that decision. I don’t want to be considered for Teacher of The Year based on potential and theory. I have two weeks to turn in my paperwork to be considered for candidacy. I am unsure if I will. Life sure is funny that way, huh?