Great expectations and the disheartened

After reading Nancy Flanagan’s post at Teacher In a Strange Land about Public Agenda’s report on Teaching for a Living: How Teachers See the Profession Today, I am questioning whether I fit into the contented, idealist, or disheartened category of teacher.  Like some of the teachers she mentions, I think I may shift between the three perspectives over the course of a single day.  However, a few months into my sixth year, I am pretty sure I’m becoming less idealistic and possibly less contented than I used to be.

What does that mean and why is it happening?  Well, when I first entered teaching, I was just excited to be there. Everything I did was experimental. I was aware that the conditions of my school were far from ideal and that I was a beginner, and I was mentally prepared to succeed or flop any day. I was eager to capitalize on success when I met it and also content to cut my losses and learn from my mistakes when I failed.  The pace of my own learning was as exhilarating as that of my students.  Success happened in moments, and I cherished them. At the end of two years of teaching one group of students for 7th and 8th grade, I saw evidence of major long-lasting growth.  I also was able to pinpoint things I had not achieved with my students and plan for the next year.  When I was frustrated, it was usually with the fact that I lacked voice within my top-down structured school.

Over the years I figured out some things that seemed to work.  I began to reuse and refine those practices.  As satisfying as that was, I also began to expect success most of the time.  I also raised my standards for what success in the classroom should look like.  At the same time, I was indoctrinated into a culture that increasingly looks to test scores to measure learning and the success of teachers.  I went from teaching my students for two years to teaching them for one.  I expected success sooner, faster, and all the time.

Additionally, I switched schools in order to work in a place where teachers had more voice in curriculum and decision making processes.  With a new school came adapting my teaching–which is a student-centered, responsive approach, where students themselves matter a lot–to a different and less familiar population of students. Eager to have more voice my school, I took on leadership roles and began spending more energy on team and school-wide issues than I ever had before.  My involvement with the Teacher Leaders Network has also opened me up to the world of education policy and edu-blogging. Practically speaking, teacher leadership has meant cutting back on the amount of time and energy spent on my own teaching practice. At the same time, I couple that with higher and higher expectations of my own teaching and less tolerance for failure of any kind.

I was never a total idealist about teaching, and I was never fully content with my own teaching, my school, or the teaching profession as a whole.  What worked for me was that I never took success with students for granted.  And I never beat myself up when something didn’t go as well as I expected.  Now I do both of those things regularly, which is a recipe for becoming one disheartened teacher.

I guess the first step is acknowledging there is a problem.  I’ll be working on how to shift my outlook so I can keep on enjoying this work. Advice is welcome 🙂

[image credit: 2007/05/]

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