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Free Your Mind, and the Rest Will Follow

by Mrs. Mimi
 | Jul 03, 2013
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.

p: micagoto via photopin cc
Recently, I have been inundated by blog posts and articles about super innovative teachers who are accomplishing all sorts of bananas goals with their children as a result of their out-of-the-box teaching methods. My first thought is, “What a rock star! I totally want to hang out in their classroom and see them in action.” My second thought is, “How did they get to be so brave?” My third thought is, “Why are most of us so paralyzed with fear?”

Then I remember what it is like to really really be a teacher in today’s climate. It is scary. Or at least it can be. With the emphasis on accountability and new teacher evaluation systems popping up all over the country, it can feel like a hard time to be a teacher. Everyone is watching—which is fine—it’s just that everyone seems out to get us, to catch us doing something that isn’t on the Approved List of Teaching Actions that was created by a non-teacher and exists in a galaxy far, far away from the realities of the classroom.

I talk to so many teachers who are paralyzed by the fear that they will “do something wrong” or that they are “not teaching the right way.” The end result is that many teachers become overly dependent on curriculum documents and essentially put aside doing what they think and know is the right thing for children.

And who loses? In my opinion, the kids lose out because they may not be getting what they actually need, they are getting what someone outside of the classroom thinks they might need because maybe they read it somewhere and it sounds fancy. Even more, though, I believe the teachers lose. The teachers lose the freedom to meet the needs of their students in ways that are creative and closely tailored to who the student and teacher are as people. The teachers lose the art and spirit of teaching, which is to take the best ideas from others, make them your own and, while you always have a plan, to constantly be thinking-on-your-feet to do what is best for your students. The teachers lose what it is to really be a teacher and to actually teach the little people sitting in front of them.

Every morning, I drive to work and listen to the same morning show on the radio. It’s your typical radio show filled with relatively funny crank phone calls, the latest gossip about famous people, and occasionally some music. However, the other day, the radio host uttered some advice that I thought was absolutely brilliant. He said, “Every day when you go to work, you should pretend you have a million dollars in the bank. That way, you won’t be so afraid to take a few chances.” Then he talked about how so many people made decisions out of fear of being caught or doing the wrong thing, which really results in many people taking fewer risks and being less innovative.

Friends, this is what is happening to us. Many of us are so afraid of doing the wrong thing or of not doing what everyone else is doing that we have lost our desire (or will?) to innovate. When, in reality, our innovations are rarely these random ideas that we pull out of our fannies and have no basis in anything besides a wing and a prayer. Typically, our best and most innovative moments come from years of experience coupled with a depth of knowledge about best practices with a sprinkling of professional reading. So let’s use this summer to free our minds and spirits from the fear that is holding us back from being our best, most rock star selves.

Let’s use this summer to think about new ways to tackle the issues that predictably pop up in your classroom. Let’s use this summer to do a little professional reading to inspire new ideas.

Let’s use this summer to pretend like we have a million dollars and remember the thrill of teaching, truly teaching, at its finest, free-est and most innovative.

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.

© 2013 Mrs. Mimi. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.

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