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  • Quiet! Teacher in Progress

QUIET! Teacher in Progress: Rethink How You Think about Yourself

by Mrs. Mimi
 | Apr 05, 2012
Being a teacher means embracing constant change. Yet all too often, teachers are told when, how and why to change. In this monthly column, Mrs. Mimi takes on creating change for herself by rethinking old practices and redefining teaching on her own terms.

Come with me on a journey back in time to one of my favorite teaching moments ever. It was a beautiful spring day and despite the glorious distracting sunshine outside our window, my classroom was abuzz with the sounds of learning. My read aloud that day? Genius. That lesson on making connections across texts? A grand slam. The class project for the science fair? Someone show me the Nobel Prize. The four thousand inevitable classroom interruptions? Handled. Without batting an eye.

That magical day, the classroom organized itself, papers found themselves graded and filed, and the photocopier was working. And there wasn’t even a line!

I walked home that day half expecting birds to land on my shoulder as I burst into song.

What really happened? I went home to Mr. Mimi, who asked about my day, and said, “It was amazing.” To which he replied, “Because you’re amazing.” (Don’t you just love him?) To which I replied, “No, it was the kids. They’re amazing.”

Most teachers I know are extremely self-deprecating. We love to joke about how many chocolates we’ve eaten off the secretary’s desk (“Seriously, I am such a PIG!”), make fun of ourselves when we accidentally pack up the kids 20 minutes early (“Guess I need a lesson in how to tell time!”), and put down our own profession constantly (“It’s not like rocket science.”).

How many times have I overheard (or been a part of) the following conversation:

Teacher 1: That lesson was amazing! I loved how you incorporated that read aloud.
Teacher 2: Oh, well, my colleague and I wrote that lesson together.
Teacher 1: It was a great choice of read aloud. Such a lovely mentor text!
Teacher 2: Yeah, well, you know, the librarian pointed it out to me.
Teacher 1: And your kids! They were so engaged!
Teacher 2: I guess it’s just one of those days. Tomorrow will probably be a mess…

Hey, Teacher 2? JUST SAY “THANK YOU.”

Yes, your colleague worked on the lesson with you and yes, the librarian showed you a great book, but YOU made that lesson sing with your fabulousness. Own it.

You need to own it. Not only for your sense of self but for the kids. (I know. I just pulled the “do it for the kids” card…one of the lowest cards to pull on a teacher. Please know that I would not pull this card without just cause.)

As teachers, we need to own our expertise and not be so ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater every time a new-fangled curriculum or mandate comes along. Own what you know. Own your years of experience, your successes, your institutional knowledge. Own that “special something” that makes our job indescribable and impossible for anyone who has not walked in our shoes to understand.

Oh, and can you own it fast? Maybe you haven’t heard, but this little thing called The Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy is coming and it’s already getting off the exit and is like ten minutes from your house, so you might want to roll out the welcome mat and put a fresh pot of coffee on.

Read the standards for which you will be responsible. I mean, really read them. Then read the standards for the grade levels above and below you. Now, get out your highlighter and/or favorite teacher pen (because I know you have one) and take notes. Underline words. Circle stuff. Do whatever you have to do to understand what is being asked of us in a deep, knowledgeable way.

And then, with the all the confidence you have mustered from owning what makes you a master of your craft, come to the table with a plan, an interpretation of the standards, a way of reaching this goal, something. Save the gossip and kvetching for a glass of “soda” with your colleagues (because you know Mrs. Mimi understands your need to vent, and vent you shall).

Stand up to own this change before someone with a power tie comes along and owns it for us.

Mrs. Mimi is a pseudonymous teacher who taught both first and second grades at a public elementary school in New York City. She's the author of IT'S NOT ALL FLOWERS AND SAUSAGES: MY ADVENTURES IN SECOND GRADE, which sprung from her popular blog of the same name. Mimi also has her doctorate in education from Teachers College, Columbia University.

© 2012 Mrs. Mimi. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.

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