The teachers went back to school this week. As I updated my syllabus, I began thinking about what I want my students to get out of this year. The standards say my students should come out of my class, knowing how to critically think, how to solve real-world problems, how to develop an argument, and invent a creative solution.
But, in writing a syllabus, I don’t really think about these skills. Sure, I need to include major works that we will read and course objectives. But, my syllabus is more of a behavioral contract: how I expect you to treat me, how I expect you to treat each other, how I expect you to handle going to the bathroom and sending me an e-mail, when you can pull out your cell phone, what a good work ethic looks like, and what happens when you plagiarize. My syllabus has nothing to do with what content you are going to be learning and has everything to do with what you are going to learn about being people: responsibility, integrity, respect; accountability, honesty, communication; perseverance, resiliency, balance.
I graduated college in seven semesters, went straight into student teaching, and got hired before I even had my teaching license. I took all of these steps, because they were the most logical: go to college, graduate, get a job. And, I loved teaching. I could be social, the center of attention, an authority. I just did it because I liked it, but never really thought about what attracted me to teaching.
This summer, I made a commitment to slow down (as much as I am able to slow down) and re-evaluate what I want out of my life. I spent a lot of time, sitting on my deck, watching the horses run in the pasture, listening to the unearthing sounds of the cows mooing in the distance, and thinking about my purpose in life.
This led me to a few crises. The first crisis had to do with my cell phone policy. I spent many weeks, contemplating how I wanted to handle technology in my classroom. I think we can all agree that technology has some pretty detrimental effects on our attention spans and social skills. Did I want to abolish technology all together? Did I want to not even fight it and let students have their phones out during independent study? Did I want to let the students make up their own rules?
Sometime last year, I was playing Candy Crush during a plan period and I thought about how that game was making me a more informed, more enlightened citizen. Well, the truth of the matter is, all the game is just pushing buttons on a touch screen and really adds no value to life. So, I started putting down my cell phone. I started leaving it in the car during work, when I was at the gym or going into the store, out with friends. I started noticing things I never noticed before: the loving way old people look at each other, the subtle smells of the dirt county roads, the ability I had to disconnect from society and just be present in the moment. Putting my cell phone away enhanced my life. As a person, I do not like to be told what to do (oppositional defiant runs strong in my family), so therefore, I do not like to tell other people what to do. I like to give people all of their options, and then allow them to make their own choices. As a teacher, I always try to not tell my students what they should believe, but rather give them the adequate tools to come to those conclusions. So, if I ask my students to put away their cellphones and experience life the way I value it, does that mean I am forcing something on them that might be wrong?
My next crisis really had to do with my own value in society. If you have read some of my other posts (Fix It Felix), I talk about how, if a zombie apocalypse occurred, I would never survive. I really make nothing for society; my hobbies include reading books and writing blog posts. When my roommate comes home from work, I will often have been sitting on the deck for hours, and he starts mowing the lawn, fixing the bath tub, watering the grass: he is actually doing something, whereas I am just sitting around, ho humming. But what I epiphanized (yes, as a grad student I can make up words), is that we actually do need people like myself to keep society running. I actually do have some kind of value.
I went into teaching, knowing that I would never be a career teacher. Yes, I love it, and yes, it feeds a lot of my intrinsic needs, but I know that someday, I will be ready to move onto a new challenge. This is perhaps the first time in my life that I am not 100% stoked to go back to school. Yes, I cannot wait to greet my new students at the door, I cannot wait to see the nervousness and wide-eyed freshmen, I cannot wait to watch each and every one of them grow, both as learners and as people. My reluctance to go back to school actually have nothing to do with teaching itself, because I love teaching, but because I discovered what I really want to be when I grow up.
What I really want to be when I grow up is a role model.
I think our world is really lacking people with strong moral character. We are forgetting to teach our kids to say please and thank you, to hold the door open, to give up our seats for the elder. We are forgetting to teach our children how to handle conflict, how to be self-assured, and how to stand up for themselves. We are forgetting to teach our students to lead by example, to learn how to fail, and to spell check their e-mails.
I am in a really fortunate situation, because I am the coach of a high school dance team, which means that I have 12 girls who look up to me. While this can be a very daunting task, it motivates me to be on my best behavior at all times. I park at the back of the parking lots, avoid the handicap bathroom, greet my cashiers with a smile. No matter where I go, I am constantly monitoring myself, just in case one of them comes around the corner and sees me.
As a teacher, my students are also constantly looking up to me. Someone recently asked me how much personal information I divulge to my classes, and whether I get kids confide in me with their problems. The truth is, my kids do not know much about my personal life. I might share a story about the chicken massacre and I might tell them about my skiing accident, but I don’t tell them about my relationship issues, we don’t talk about my fight with my sister, I never bring up my personal life. It really has nothing to do with me not caring, because I do care a lot, but rather because I want to teach my students the skill of resiliency. Life does not stop just because you have an issue, so they need to learn how to power through.
So, when I think about what I really want to do with my life, I just want to be a role model, whether that be through teaching, coaching, authorship, yoga, social circles. I really think this is my ultimate purpose in life. I am willing to sacrifice myself and my selfish instincts, to walk a little further, force myself to not be lazy, combat my bad attitude to put a smile on my face. I want people to see me, and feel themselves empowered. I want people to question their morals, their values, their daily habits, and feel propelled to make changes to enhance their own quality of life.
What I really want to be when I grow up is a role model, because I am not sure the world has enough of those these days.