Teachers, let’s expect more

After reading Ariel’s insightful post about the nature of expectations, I wonder how I can inspire a culture of hope amongst my peers.

I’ve always been an incredibly optimistic person. My entire life, I have been able to see potential in situations and people that others have failed to see. This has led to many successes in teaching and many bad dates in my personal life.

Recently, though, I have been feeling beat down by the pessimism of my peers about a variety of issues. I keep being part of a conversation that goes a little something like this:

Me: “I just read a great chapter from Kelly Gallagher’s new book Write Like This! It talks about how we should model real world writing strategies with our students. I want to try the 1 topic=18 topics activity with our students. What a great way for our kids to see how their inquiry and writing has authentic purpose!

Cynical Teaching Peer: “My kids can’t do that. I can barely get them to stay awake in class much   less get them to be excited about what they are researching.”

Me: “But if we show them how we write and communicate for a purpose as adults who write, then won’t that engage them?”

Cynical Teaching Peer: “No.”

It feels like I have a conversation like this every day.

I’m not saying I don’t “get” and even empathize with my more pessimistic peers. There are days when I wonder if my students have left part of their brains in a jar at home. I struggle constantly to be engaging and to provide authentic experiences for my kids and sometimes it doesn’t work. But that doesn’t mean any of us should stop trying.

What if I, as a teacher, believed that my students were incapable of meeting high standards and producing real-world thinking and communication? With that mindset, I wouldn’t be able to convince my students they could do much, would I?

Here are a few truths I’ve come to. I’d argue they’re a realist’s truths, not just the ramblings of a deluded optimist, but decide for yourself:

  • When big changes occur in education, we teachers need to give ourselves a little grace. For example, we need to recognize that we are working to implement new standards with students who previously have learned according to old standards.
  • We won’t always get things right the first time—so we have plenty of opportunities to let students learn from how we cope with failure and stress. Students will continue look to us as providers of hope and opportunities. I, for one, don’t want to let them down.
  • Teachers have a great deal on our plates right now and chances are, we always will. For the sake of our students, we have to recognize that fact and move forward. Getting stuck in the injustices inherent in the system will not help the system to change.

I challenge my pessimistic peers to recognize that it is our responsibility as educators to give our students the benefit of the doubt. Expect them to meet the challenge—even as you recognize things won’t go perfectly. Believe in your students—and in yourself.

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