Becoming a Connected Teacher, Part 1

I guess you could call this “A Midsummer Night’s Scheme.”

Being the good Silicon Valley child that I am (born in Redwood City, raised in Los Altos, and now a resident of Mountain View), it’s natural for me to think of my  development as an educator as a progression of updates. So for this journey I’m going to talk about, I’ll refer to myself as MTT, short for Mike The Teacher, and to the three stages I have experienced so far the way many would refer to apps or software as it is improved and changed.

MTT 1.0: Going Through the Motions.  I started teaching full-time at a public high school in 2004, with no real idea of how all-consuming the career would be.  I’d taught part-time at local colleges for a while, but those were hit-and-run gigs where I rarely developed a rapport with students and fellow teachers.  In fact, it’s fair to say that I treated my college students the way I had been treated by my own professors — brief, impersonal encounters, where names weren’t exchanged and where the prevailing attitude was “I said it in class and it was on the transparency (!); if you didn’t get it, that’s not my fault.  Go and read the text again.”

For the first few years of my high school teaching, that was more or less how I acted.  I hadn’t learned that the teaching profession was an all-consuming, 24/7 ministry; that it was based on relationships, not content; that to take the attitude of the adjunct professor was to abdicate the role of teacher; that the kids I had in my classes were not abstractions, but real, vulnerable adolescents who needed to be listened to and honored for what they were.

I was a fair instructor at that time.  I knew how to manage a classroom, how to deliver a lesson, how to make sure the kids learned the content.  I fulfilled my duties on campus, stayed in the good graces of my administration, and got along pretty well with my colleagues.  But I wasn’t a well-informed professional. I didn’t real education-based books other than Harry Wong’s The First Days of School, preferring to read thick historical tomes that were great intellectual exercises but had no bearing on either my relevant knowledge base or my in-class practice.  I spent too much time online, but it was never with the idea of connecting with other educators or finding out what the best practices were for high school teachers.

And from time to time, I felt a nagging sense of discontent.  It all seemed too easy, as if I was just turning keys and getting the same product.  To paraphrase Betty Friedan, I looked at my teaching every so often and murmured to myself, “…is this all there is?”

That was, I am sorry to say, the first 12 years of my teaching career.

MTT 1.5: The Wakeup Call.  In 2015, a new colleague came to our school after a good friend in our department had suddenly quit the profession to get married.  I’ll call this new colleague Libby for privacy reasons.

Libby, quite frankly, scared the s**t out of me.  Not only was she vivacious, efficient, and enthusiastic, she did all the things that I myself had shunned.  She read the books on education that were hitting the shelves; she put in the hours outside of school time to help her kids; she made an effort to know each one of the students by name and by interest; and she was treating her “job” as something that took up her entire existence.  (Okay, she had a husband and two kids, so it wasn’t her entire existence, but you get the picture.)

Libby had ideas for an improved curriculum, she could back up everything she wanted to do with both practical experience and research, and she loved every minute of her job.  And the students and faculty adored her.

Where did that leave me — the safe, detached, disengaged jobber who leaned on what “had always worked,” who resented this interloper coming into “my” school (from which I had previously graduated, no less!), who heard that murmuring louder and louder every day inside my head?  Well, it left me inwardly seething and mentally grasping.

What do I have to do to be as cutting-edge as Libby?  How come I can’t be that teacher that is poised to change lives, instead of the one who checks the boxes and collects the pay?  What is it about this sassy, carefree teacher that makes her so confident? Where do I even start in changing my practice? Those and other questions paraded through my head all that year.  

(Before I wrap up this section of the story, I hasten to add that I probably should not have let Libby get under my skin the way I did.  To compare yourself to another teacher, I know now, is not only unnecessary but can also be harmful to your own attitude and your own practice.  But the MTT 1.0 mentality I had when Libby came to my school wouldn’t permit me to respond to her example with anything but insecurity and self-criticism.  I know better now.)

My first tentative steps towards MTT 1.5 included consulting other teachers, outside of my school, for their recommendations of innovative books on teaching.  I cruised over to the local Barnes & Noble and bought up an armful…Today I Made A Difference, 22 Habits That Empower Students, The Happy Teacher Habits.  And I started reading.

Maybe more important, I took a deep breath, logged onto edtechteam.com, and started looking at this new thing called the Google Certified Teacher program.  This might be a start on being more relevant and more technologically savvy, I thought. This might be the step I needed.

It turned out to be a start, all right…of a journey I never, ever anticipated.  Stay tuned for MTT 2.0 and 2.5, coming later this week.

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