Throughout my entire K-12 experience, math was my main source of anxiety. So, what better way to heal myself than choose to be a math and science educator?
Community Four Teacher
Have you ever experienced that moment in your career where everything perfectly falls into place? Where everything becomes so easy you can simply turn on cruise control and watch the magic happen?
I have been in the public education system for 38 years—21 as a young learner and 17 as an educator—and “easy” has never been the way I’ve described my tenure. Exciting, eventful, exhilarating, and challenging. But, never “easy.”
My career path doesn’t actually make a whole lot of sense. From my earliest memories of school to the last day of high school, I struggled in math. Not the “I just don’t care for it” kind of struggle, but the “I am going to be physically sick before, during, and after every math class” kind of struggle. Throughout my entire K-12 experience, math was my main source of anxiety. So, what better way to heal myself than choose to be a math and science educator?
Since I was eight years old, I wanted to be a teacher. My mother even framed my third grade “What do you want to be when you grow up?” story and gave it to me when I had my first classroom. I look back at that frame often, and it reminds me that we shouldn’t be asking learners what they want to “be” when they grow up; rather, we should ask them what problems they want to solve.
By becoming a teacher, I desperately wanted to improve a system that caused so much stress and anxiety to me throughout my childhood. I wanted my learners to understand they can overcome any challenge they are presented with in life (especially math) but that it takes perseverance and a growth mindset.
Discovering Education Should Be More than a Game
Although I had a great public school education, I look back on my experiences as a learner and realize I was just trying to please people. I wanted to get an “A” so others would be proud of me. I learned how to play the “game” of school well. I went on to college and later earned a master’s degree in Elementary Education. All this time, I was supposed to be “learning,” but I was just complying and passively moving through my education. It wasn’t until I became an educator that the true learning began.
As a learner, the way I experienced education didn’t sit well with me. As an educator—experiencing things from the other side—I could see how outdated the system was and the changes future generations were going to need.
The industrial model of “assembly line” education should be a thing of the past. Learners no longer need school to be the place where they gather information—thanks, internet. The teacher does not hold the key to their knowledge anymore. Instead, they need to come to school to learn how to collaborate with their peers, think critically, develop a growth-mindset, and solve real-world problems so they can become active, engaged, and productive citizens.
At the beginning of my career, I used to think I was the leader in the classroom and all learning had to come through me. It’s how I was treated, so I didn’t take immediate advantage of the opportunity to be a changemaker. In smaller ways, I simply wanted to make learners, particularly those who despised mathematics, find a bit more value in their educational experience. Thankfully, I realized I needed to think bigger.
In life, you have to own your impact. I quickly realized learning could be so much more meaningful when the learners were actually part of their learning and taking ownership over it. I was fortunate enough to be on the ground level of making this shift when assisting in the launch of Pike Road Schools in Alabama.
Imagining a World Where Kids Love Going to School
One of the first books I read during a professional learning was “Start With Why” by Simon Sinek. One of my favorite quotes from that book is: “Imagine a world in which the vast majority of us wake up inspired, feel safe at work and return home fulfilled at the end of the day.”
This quote spoke to me about my chosen career because if you change a few words around and make it relevant to teaching and learning it sounds like this—“Imagine a school in which the vast majority of learners wake up inspired, feel safe at school and return home fulfilled at the end of the day.” Every day I step into the classroom, I ask myself if I am helping learners do this.
Throughout my career, several people from all walks of life, both in education and out, have asked me why I don’t just “get my administration degree and get out of the classroom.” I have had a wide range of answers in the past: “I would be fired on my first day after telling someone what I really thought” or “I wouldn’t last a minute with all the politics it takes to be in administration,” but I think my truest answer is: “I can’t give up the relationships I have the honor and privilege to develop year after year with the learners placed in my charge.”
A shift has to begin that allows all of us to create a better education system for our children, cultivating them to be lifelong learners. We must build a system that is learner-centered, curiosity-based, and passion-driven.
Community Four Teacher
I am amazed by all the administrators I have had in the past. They make it look so easy to be in leadership, and I catch myself, every now and then, thinking it might be the place for me. Then I realize that my purpose is being on the front lines. If changemakers only exist at the administrative levels, we will find ourselves in the exact same silos we often find ourselves sitting in today—learners telling learners how frustrated they are, parents telling parents, teachers telling teachers, principals telling principals, and so on.
Keeping myself aware of the big picture while doing the work on the ground will give me the opportunity to provide insights to my colleagues up the chain of command and to the learners and parents I get to build relationships with year after year.
The education of a child shouldn’t just be something that takes place in the classroom; it should happen everywhere. As highlighted in Education Reimagined’s Practitioner’s Lexicon, we need to join forces with our communities: “educational practitioners, scholars, business people, parents and anyone who is willing to join the fight to make education what it needs to be.”
My experience has allowed me the vantage point of seeing most things cycle through education with only one goal in mind—to raise test scores—not to create lifelong learners. A shift has to begin that allows all of us to create a better education system for our children, cultivating them to be lifelong learners. We must build a system that is learner-centered, curiosity-based, and passion-driven.
We all have a great responsibility to change our current system. We must push learners to take ownership of their learning and teach them that failure is a part of this journey. We have a duty to prepare future generations to problem solve, work collaboratively, and communicate effectively.
Maybe you had a positive educational experience; maybe you didn’t. Either way, your experiences in life shape who you are as a person and impact you greatly. I OWN my impact in this cycle, and I challenge you to find where you fit and never stop moving.