Confession: Are you who you are in the classroom?

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By being yourself, you put something wonderful in the world that was not there before. – Edwin Elliot

I’ve started teaching in a PYP school in 2009, it was also the first year of my teaching career.  While a lot of teachers have gone through different schools, systems and approaches, I am blessed to have been exposed to the inquiry approach right from the very start.  I’ve encountered great teachers, inspiring mentors, and I continuously follow educators all over the world.  Some will guide you thoroughly.  Some will allow you to make mistakes, some will encourage you to experiment.  Some may think they have  ‘better’ ideas, some may think they have ‘better processes’.  Some may appreciate you, some may not.   I think educators, like most people, have different faces— and the best ones have the power to influence.  But at the end of the day, you gotta find who you are in the classroom.

I’m around 2 months away from ending my 1st School Year in an IB school here in Mumbai, making this school my 2nd PYP school.   At the beginning, I thought things would somehow be easier for me as I thought I had a focused experience inside the classroom.  As my new coordinator ‘suggests’ and gives me a lot of freedom in the classroom, I thought that things would be a breeze for me.  BUT THEY’RE NOT.  AND THIS MADE ME WONDER WHY.

“I’ve done this before…I’ve done the same unit…It’s the same inquiry cycle…We have used the same resources in my school before….I know how this works…blahblahblah…”  The thoughts didn’t really make things easier.  What really helped me along the way is accepting my following mistakes:

  1. Thinking that I’m right.
  2. Thinking that if our system ‘worked’ in my previous school, it would work in my current school.
  3. Thinking that I have one of the best PYP trainings just because I’ve worked and learned so tediously, having sleepless nights in my previous school; hence, this should be easier.
  4. Thinking that there is a formula for teaching and inquiry.
  5. And the biggest of all:  having caught up by expectations and ideas of how a PYP teacher “should” be.

I would say that one of the biggest revelations of this school year is:  I am not original.  Hence I used my freedom in the classroom to be someone else, and not to be me.  And this made things somewhat difficult.  I realized that I am now in the phase where I am in search of my own identity as a teacher.  Having learned all these teaching theories, systems, practices, what can I now come up with to create something magical, engaging and productive in the classroom?  Which one works and which one doesn’t?

I took teaching more as statistics than an art (not that this is bad, but I know I could’ve been more creative).  I used practices that I thought were ‘proven’ instead of my intuition.  I listened more to others than what my students are trying to tell me.  I simply didn’t trust myself and my students enough.

Having to realize this early this school year, I took action on how to find my identity in the classroom.  I researched and learned that there are different factors that affect our teaching style and not just what the coordinators are teaching us.  I talk and collaborate with different educators online, mostly via Twitter.  I attend PYP chats, never mind if I can contribute or not- what’s important is that I learn and I try to share.  I read and collect blogs from different educators around the world.  I try to apply what I learn from what I read and watch from other educators.  I talk to friends, I talk to my kids, I talk to my colleagues and ask for feedback.  And I think the most important of all is that I reflect.

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All in all, I still consider myself a toddler inside the classroom and I do think that I am in the right phase to experience this.  I think if we, teachers, want to find who we really are, we would need to be also aware who we are as people.  Being ourselves in the classroom is not about feeling good in the classroom because we’ve implemented something that other great teachers have implemented, to impress them, your coordinator, your colleagues or even the parents.  It’s about having this feeling of comfort with what you bring in the class, whether it’s something new or old, or something…simple.  It’s about having personal insights about what you’re learning from different educators and from your students.  Not just to simply follow what other educators are doing just because everyone’s doing it, but because to you, it really makes sense and it really helps your students love learning more.  I think it’s really good to take inspiration from educators we admire the most, but sometimes we aim so much to be like them that we lose who we are.

Teaching is a life-long process.  I think what makes us great in the classroom is the personal vision and character that we share with others.  This isn’t something that you and time can force, but it is a choice that you can make.  It’s something that I think naturally unfolds based on the different factors that we allow ourselves to experience.  So I say as we go along through this journey, teachers-especially the young ones, let’s learn to think for ourselves and refuse to do things just because people tell us to do so.  Let’s not be afraid to disagree, let’s dare to be different and let’s dare to make a difference. Ask ourselves what can we do differently.  Let’s not be afraid to fail, to make mistakes and to try something new. Create, design, teach from the heart, and no matter what, love yourself for who you are.

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