The year is now 2016. Your humble narrator has made it through MTT (Mike The Teacher) 1.0: Going Through the Motions during his first 12 years in teaching high school, and then been jolted out of apathy by MTT 1.5: The Wakeup Call. (Read the first part of this blog post if you want the story.)
My colleague Libby, whom I resented for spoiling my easy-peasy teaching practices, suddenly resigned; her husband had taken a high paying medical job upstate. Now I was left without the motivating menace she had been. The question was, at the risk of throwing out a cliche: could the genie of professional development now be put back into the bottle? Or would I just relax into a complacent style again without Libby looming two classrooms away?
MTT 2.0: Connected. The process of getting my Google Level 1 Certification was assisted by a series of “bootcamps” that my district put on for us during the fall of 2016 and the winter of 2017. I attended these after-school session faithfully, and in doing so, I discovered that not only was the Google Suite (or GAFE, or whatever they were calling it back then) brilliantly designed for student success, it was elegant and easy for teachers to use. Even the timid ones like me, who swore they would never use any technology in class until they had mastered every single nuance, could implement Docs, Sheets, Slides, Keep, Calendar, Gmail, and the rest of the apps in the classroom almost immediately.
As the school year went on, I started using those technologies, but I also began to quietly poach some of the lessons that Libby and others had put in the shared Google drive we had established for our teaching cohort. We had put materials there with the idea that anyone could use or not use whatever was in there, no questions asked and no egos involved. As it turned out, not only was I not ashamed of helping myself to what others had worked on and been successful with, I was pleased to have widened my palette and tried a few new things with my students. And the kids like a lot of the new stuff as well!
Then came the fateful Saturday morning in April when I got up early, made myself a cup of coffee, and logged onto a Twitter chat for the first time. I was irrevocably changed by what I experienced that day.
Not only were the people on the chat (and I couldn’t tell you what the hashtag was) totally enthusiastic about their teaching in a way I had never seen before, they were amazingly welcoming. They were very patient in showing me how to participate in the chat, how to use the hashtag in statements to the group, how a Q&A session functioned…the works. I came away from that chat with not only some practical ideas about the classroom, but also with a totally new perspective on my career.
I learned that day, and in the dozens of chats that I joined that summer, that this job was, and is, nothing like I thought it was.
Teaching isn’t about facts. It’s about faith in students.
Teaching isn’t about content. It’s about connecting with kids.
Teaching isn’t about tests. It’s about tenacity.
Teaching isn’t about grades. It’s about growth.
Teaching isn’t about procedures. It’s about progress.
And the lessons haven’t stopped. Every time I join a Twitter chat, I come away with new connections to fellow teachers, who are struggling and learning right alongside the kids they teach, and who are willing to share their experiences and their wisdom with me. And, I’m gratified to say, they also ask me for my experiences and advice!
Since that day of connection, I’ve told several colleagues that they need to get on Twitter, that there is a treasure trove of connectedness and wisdom in those chats and in the PLN that gets formed there.
The response has usually been something like, “I have enough professional development resources right now, so I don’t need to be in an online chat room.”
Bull. Every teacher ought to be on Twitter. Or, if they don’t like the specific medium where our President bloviates dozens of times a day and Kim Kardashian shows off her latest plastic surgery, they should form some other connection online with a community of other educators who can sustain, encourage, motivate, and reinforce them.
I don’t agree with everything George Couros says, but he’s spot on when he says that teachers who shut themselves off from every possible resource for their professional development are dooming themselves to irrelevance. The days of being the lone figure in the classroom, working in isolation and coming up with brilliant, cutting-edge lesson materials with no help from his/her counterparts, are gone and gone forever. (If they ever existed.)
So, by 2017, I’d finally (and it was very late in coming) become a reflective educator. I had become a connected educator. But there was one more stage in my journey that I needed to take.
Part 3 coming later this week.