May 1

It’s That Time of Year

I try so hard not to be ‘that’ teacher.  You know, that traditional one who does the same things year after year whether it is effective or not, whether it is outdated or not, whether it is something worthwhile or not.  Yet, what I am finding is that no matter how hard I try not to be ‘that’ teacher, I am.

Oh, I’m not the ELA teacher who still clings to 3×5 index cards for note-taking in preparation for creating an outline in preparation for creating a ten-page research paper.  That gal is long-gone.  I would far rather have a student use an online tool for highlighting and annotating and curating sources in preparation for mapping out an infographic or infomercial with catchy images or screencasting or GIFs to illustrate the main points.

I’m not the teacher who sets up a group project and thinks I have to assign strict roles for students to follow in completing a prescribed project with a prescribed product that I can display twenty of the exact same thing in the hallway for everybody to admire on their way to the cafeteria.  That cookie-cutter concept has completely crumbled.  I would far rather ask an essential or driving question and have student groups determine their own plan for creating a solution or reporting their findings.  After all, the learning is in the doing.  To help me know that my students were learning, I would ask them reflective questions which document their understanding and mastery and not assign a multiple choice set of questions.

For the  past couple of days I’ve watched teachers and from what I can tell, most of them are ‘that’ teacher, too.  What I’m referring to is ‘that’ teacher who is feeling burnout.  I don’t know if it is the time of year and we all have a bit of spring fever after so many long grey days.  I don’t know if it is fatigue from keeping up the grueling schedule of class, extra-curricular requirements such as gate ticket sales or coaching.  I don’t know if it is the stress of the emphasis that is put on the high, holy tests that are administered at the end of every school year and that season is definitely upon us, too – practice ACT, ACT exam, practice state test, state test, etc.  Then, there is the review of all the material for those tests because they are cumulative and somebody might have forgotten a morsel.  All of this has led to burnout, I think.  Teachers are burned out and students are burned out as well.

I see encouraging email messages from administrators go out every few days.  They might include a cartoon or an inspirational quote  or video but all are telling folks to “finish strong!”  Yet, it is really difficult to finish strong when we are experiencing burnout and I know that I am wallowing in that burnout.  The criticism, the frustration, the desperate feeling of not making an impact and nobody listening all have snowballed and left me feeling as if I am covered up in ashes and barely smoldering.

I will say, however, that I found a spark of encouragement in the words of Ann Voskamp this morning.  In her post she encourages spiritual refinement as the cure for burnout but the defining statement for me was this:

“The only way to lead a symphony is to turn your back to the crowd, the critics, the court.”

Really, isn’t that what we are trying to do on a daily basis, no matter what our calling – but especially for us as teachers?  Leading a symphony is certainly what life feels like at times.  We are dependent upon all those instrumentalists to gel together and create harmonious beauty.  There have been hours and hours of learning new measures, days of practice and reinforcement, and it all comes down to a performance for an audience.

So, today, I just say to all of us who are feeling burnout, turn your back to the crowd and lead your symphony.  Some will applaud and then you will have time to revamp, rejuvenate, and plan for your next collective performance.