Geeking Out and Freaking Out About School

“Summer’s off.”

“All the vacations!”

“Only work 10 months of the year.”

Anyone who’s ever cited the above reasons for why they became a teacher is a liar, and anyone who assumes the above is actually true has clearly never lived with a teacher. While I can confidently dispel the myth that teachers do not live at school, I cannot say that the dwelling of a teacher (or any educator, for that matter) has not effectively become a school, in the sense that the “teacher hat” rarely ever (truly) comes off. 

While I’m sad to say that my year of teaching mathematics to a brilliant group of students in Kazakhstan is now over, I am happy to report that I will be working as a science teacher at a Canadian international school in Seoul, Korea come Fall.  Currently unemployed, I have been spending my summer months contemplating the new school year to come. As a new teacher, I get thrown with a lot of advice: 

“Make learning interesting”

“Don’t just lecture”

“Let your students have FUN!”

“Whatever you do, don’t smile until December”

“Whoever said not to smile until December is throwing out a bunch of bull-crap” 

I mean, all this advice is helpful in some way, but mostly, I worry. I worry because I know that the advice usually stems from some past experience; perhaps my adviser has had a brilliant teacher in the past and wants to give me some insight on best practices, or maybe the experience was so traumatic that it is a warning against what I might become. I know, and am reminded every day, that teachers have a tremendous opportunity to influence the lives of their students, whether its for better or for worse. I would be lying if I said that thought has never kept me up at night. 

So what does a young, novice teacher like me do during their free time? Well, this summer (like the last, and probably for many summers to come) has been filled with a lot of reading; books about science education, classroom management, cognitive psychology, teaching and learning . . . you name it. Books, and also a lot of web-surfing in search of inspiration and ideas for the next school year. The great thing about being a teacher today, versus 50 years ago even, is the incredible, vast, and extensive amount of information available literally (excuse the cliche) at our fingertips. With the advent of online textbooks, YouTube, massive open online courses (MOOCs), I really have no excuse for not knowing better. The issue now becomes knowing how to efficiently and effectively conduct searches, filter out the big ideas, and not get caught in fun  yet unproductive Pintrest spirals, or the ever-so-looming YouTube vortex. 


A sample of my summer reading.

I find myself constantly striving to be perfect. I work, rework, and surgically remove minute details in my lesson plans until I am convinced they are just so. Then along will come some new insight I’ve read in a book or online article and I will repeat the process all over again. I worry about many things:

     Will my students find this topic interesting? Can they relate this to their own lives?
     What will they remember 10 years from now?
     Is this an example of content-based, activity-based, or inquiry based teaching?
     How can I work towards developing lessons that are more minds-on rather than hands-on
     How can I better scaffold this project to ensure top-quality work? 
    . . . and so on. 

The result of all this worrying is twofold: 1) my brain is now attempting to process more information than it can actually take on, and 2) very, very slow progress with my unit planning. I realize that I need to just give myself permission to just be okay with being a novice. I mean, there really is nothing more liberating than knowing you are not the best and that it is okay (splendid, even) to keep learning – that is a belief I want to instill in my students too! Of course, knowing all this, it is still a constant struggle to be mindful of it, and I am sure I will be reminding myself (and my students) of this more than once. 

So here’s to wanting to be a great teacher, but okay with being good (modest?) one (for now). 

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