To teach. A job or a profession? A vocation or a choice? Gifted or requires learning? Boring or stimulating? Challenging or a piece of cake? It truly depends on who you ask. Your own school experiences; good or bad will influence your view of the word teacher. Or perhaps it has nothing to do with school and everything to do with the “teaching” that you see every day in your personal life.
Over my forty years in education, I have had numerous conversations about being teacher. I have been teased by friends when I had the summers “off” and reminded how lucky I was to be a teacher. I recall so many times trying to explain my days as a teacher, principal and eventually superintendent but it was hard so I stopped. As time passed and I became more “seasoned” I stopped reacting and tried to understand that unless you have walked in the shoes of an educator, truly experiencing a daily life that is controlled by a bell schedule that never seems to provide ample time to meet the needs of all the students in front of you, it would be hard to see past the snow days, March break and summer down time.
Yes, I was one of the teachers who did a snow dance in our Canadian winters and then when I was superintendent, I got up early every morning to make the decision to close for our thirty-eight schools. I never took that part of my job lightly and knew that the safety of our students and staff was my first responsibility. I always smiled later though when a teacher would send me a message thanking me for the day off. I knew a battery was being recharged and that was a side benefit. I was also the teacher who couldn’t wait for the last day of school and for summer vacation to begin. It typically started with a beach vacation on Prince Edward Island with my two young daughters. It was exactly what I needed to relax and rest.
As much as I enjoyed my time away from school, it wasn’t what motivated me to stay in education. And, as I think of all of the teachers who I have worked with, especially this past year as a coach, I am confident that it isn’t the summer vacation inspiring them either. How do we explain our “why”? What creates the synergy for continuous learning and improvement? And, on the flip side, why do so many great young teachers leave the profession in year one?
I am confident that each and every educator reading this blog understands that there has been a tipping point somewhere in their career that was that defining moment that kept them in the profession. Perhaps it was the aha moment with a particular student (mine was with Edward) or a leader that has empowered you to be the best teacher that you can be. It might just be the community that you find yourself apart of; the one that exists within the four walls of the school that is truly a family of support and caring (for me that was Lewisville Middle School).
Cutting to the chase, in my opinion, the real motivator for educators is purpose. When teachers and leaders understand the why of the work and can stay intentionally focused on this, teaching becomes more about the learning and less about the teaching. Leading a school becomes more about the students and teachers and less about managing the facility. Purposeful community is about interrelatedness versus trying to do everything for students in isolation. Collective efficacy and ownership is a powerful driving force when, together, we understand our why.
In school improvement coaching, taking teachers and leaders back to their why is a necessary activity to move forward. Time for reflection, discourse and understanding is needed to truly build common understanding of why we teach, why we lead and, mostly, why we want to be in education. This is a great time of the year to consider your why. As a staff, celebrate and reflect or as an individual teacher or leader, create space to understand the purpose of you, the educator. Consider the lives of students whom you have impacted and the professional support that you have provided to other educators. Think about the parents who truly needed a connection with you, especially this past year and understand that you have made a difference in their lives. Know that your intentionality and focus have influenced many.
This past week, I said good bye to a teaching staff who I have worked with for the past three years. I have watched the teachers and leaders grow as professionals and as we celebrated their accomplishments, one of the grade level teams reminded me that they were first-year teachers. They acknowledged how hard it was to begin a teaching career in the middle of a pandemic and that they found the year exhausting, rewarding, frustrating and inspiring- all at the same time. At first, they were overwhelmed by the needs of their students and the curriculum expectations but as a collaborative team they supported one another as they learned together. I said good bye to them this week confident that they are well on their way to long careers as amazing educators.
Forty years or year number one- purpose is just as important. Whatever stage in your career that you find yourself today, consider why you are in education. Remind yourself of this when days are tough and you are easily distracted. Reconnect with your why.