“make a legal u-turn, if possible.”

2015 was rough. While I still functioned reasonably well on the outside, it entailed a lot of smoke and quite a few mirrors. Even if we’re grieving over a loved one, Standard RL.2.1 still needs to be taught. And regardless of our backlog of essays, Common Assessment #2 still needs to be administered, collected, and assessed. As a result, I spent much of the past year stapling “lost” signs onto poles while canvasing the neighborhood for my sanity.

And then I stumbled onto the Taoist adage, “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” Gulp.  After a year with one unpredictable GPS, I kind of wanted to go home. 

Please don’t misunderstand: My heart still quickens when the classroom door latches behind me, and few things excite me more than watching my students escape into their choice reading before the bell even rings. However, the you’ll-never-catch-up-even-using-all-three-personal-days-for-grading pit in my stomach has grown exponentially over the last few years.  And it is taking its toll.

Accordingly, so that I don’t end up where I’m headed, I’ve resolved to shift my focus for the rest of the year. I can’t change most of my stressors, so I’ll concentrate on what I can change. Below are five U-turns to which I am committing in the coming year.

  1. SLOWING DOWN. Trying to effectively teach in a classroom that incorporates PARCC, CCSS, DDMs, PLCs, PLNs, PBL, and any other education-related acronym is distressing for even the seasoned educator. (I wonder if I’d make it to November if entering the profession now.) However, rather than stressing over all I’m asked to do, I commit to slowing down and providing in-depth coverage of whatever it is my students and I are exploring together. 180 days is a long learning cycle, and a lot of in-depth, real-world learning can happen in that window. There’s no need to rush–especially if authentic learning is the casualty.
  2. DOING MORE WITH LESS. Our math teachers were on to something when they switched from assigning all sixty problems to assigning just the evens.  They knew we could demonstrate our ability to solve for X regardless of how many problems we were assigned. Likewise, I commit to assigning fewer but richer tasks–tasks that allow for more analysis, creativity, critical thinking, real-world learning, etc.  Why assign, for example, a reading check quiz three days in a row (which only assesses plot) when a Socratic seminar on Friday can assess all of the week’s readings on a much deeper level, while honing speaking and listening skills, analytic prowess, and textual evidence gathering?
  3. STAYING CURRENT. In two decades, I have developed the most as a professional from other greats in the field. Tweets, blogs, Facebook groups, and industry sites and texts have shaken up my teaching more than any hour-long session on a half day. This is not to say that my local offerings are not high-caliber. Instead, when the one-size-fits-all training whets but doesn’t satiate my appetite, I begin looking in other places to grow even more. On my own time. (Isn’t this the very lifelong learning we aim to ignite in our students?)  The temptation is to begrudge having to do this on my own time. So, if (when) that thief-of-joy resentment creeps in, I commit to shifting my perspective back to my students. Regardless of how many heapings are on my teaching plate, it would be reckless of me not to stay current. In the same way I wouldn’t want an obsolete doctor operating on my children, I don’t want to be that kind of educator for someone else’s.
  4. COLLABORATING. Part of what sustained me last year was being surrounded by enthusiastic colleagues who take risks in the classroom. As a result of others’ enthusiasm, this old dog has learned more new tricks than she ever thought possible. Sometimes the tricks–in my paws–are disasters, mind you; other times, they edge near educational magic; but all of the time, they force me out of my comfort zone and into the role of a lifelong learner. And if, say, two (or three or ten) educators dream up something together–and split the workload, twice as many students benefit and for just 50% of the individual teacher’s energy. It’s a win-win. I commit to continuing to collaborate with the fabulous lifelong learners in my midst.
  5. CONSIDERING THE SOURCE. While I love healthy collaboration, I can sometimes fall prey to the few naysayers in the mix. I blogged about that in June when, after perusing my end-of-the-year student surveys, I wrongly fixated on the few outliers.  Now, whether it’s a critical student, a pessimistic colleague, or an insensitive friend, I commit to not exactly ignoring the negative feedback–as I can grow from that. But I will consider the source of the negativity, rather than dwell on it. 

I still love my job; I just don’t like the effect it has had on me as of late. So, in an effort to not end up where I am heading, I resolve to make a legal U-turn. I want to stay fresh for, remain committed to, and be focused on the 125 students who just might become lifelong learners (and readers!) because of what I accomplish in the classroom. They also might not.

But I have 180 days to try.

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