Sunday, July 31, 2016

Do I Miss the Classroom?

There isn’t a week that has gone by over the last year that someone hasn’t asked me, “Do you miss the classroom?” For those of you who don’t know, I was in the Early Childhood classroom for 13 years, teaching grades 1-3. I started a new position as the Director of Professional Development and Communications for our state teacher’s association at the beginning of the ’15-’16 school year. After years of success in the classroom, I made the transition to education work beyond my room, and everyone wants to know how I like my new gig. Each time I have responded to the infamous question, my mind races through possible reactions, replies, and ripple effects of my answer. The question literally makes me sick to my stomach. This is how it plays out in my head each time. 

Random Person (usually at Target): “So, How are things going, do you miss the classroom?”

Inside my head before I reply: Here we go again. Ugh, I hate this question. I wish people wouldn’t ask it. What do I say this time? If I say “no”, they will think I am a phony, a fraud, a charlatan who just appeared to love the work with students and fooled everyone into thinking that I cared for children. If I say “no”, they will think that I left because I was unhappy with my coworkers, unhappy with my school, unhappy with my district, unhappy with the profession. If I say “no”, they will think that I dislike parents, and lesson plans, and meetings, and trainings. If I say “no”, they will assume that I was fed up the whole system and walked away from it with new career goals ahead. The last thing I ever want is for someone to think that I do not LOVE this profession, I must not say “no”. 
If I say “yes”. They will think that I am miserable in my new job and that I made a mistake in leaving my classroom. If I say “yes”, they will think I am unsatisfied or unfulfilled with my new work. If I say “yes”, it might come across that I do not like the teachers, schools, districts, and staff that I work with each week across the state. Heck… It might even come across that I do not like helping others be better at their work. If I say “yes”, they will start telling me a list of all the schools that they have heard are looking for teachers. If I say “yes”, they will think I didn’t have good discernment and judgement when I made the move to leave.

Me, Thoughts Still Going, Reply: “Well, I missed it the first day of school, but then I went out to lunch somewhere besides a cafeteria, and I got over it.”  

The other person usually laughs and the conversation moves on. They want to know what it is I am actually doing each and every day. My insides calm down because I have used humor to divert the real answer to my question. It’s not that I don’t want to answer it, but unless they have walked in my shoes in this amazing profession, they would never understand my response anyway. Being a teacher is the MOST AMAZING career there is. What other profession does the president call  “Nation Builders”? The work of a teacher is the most important work that one can do outside of military service to guarantee the future of our democracy. It is through education that all other careers are born. Without teachers, there are no doctors, police, nor presidents. There is no Microsoft, Apple, nor Google. There is no military commander, no noble prize winner, no Nasa scientist.
Understanding the role I played as a Nation Builder, my answer to the dreaded question is “yes”. Yes, I miss my classroom so much it hurts, especially on August 1st. That was usually the day I started getting everything ready. I couldn’t wait to start designing the layout, decorating the walls, and creating a space that was fun, safe, and inviting. I couldn’t wait to smell the new crayons and notebooks, to be covered in pencil shaving dust and Sharpie ink. I couldn’t wait to cuss at all the computer wires that had been undone and tangled beyond belief. I couldn’t wait to see my class list and dream big for the new batch of “Dearyburys" that were on their way. What a fantastic way to spend my life!

I will tell you another pretty great way to spend a life though, and that is by equipping, encouraging, and empowering those who are Nation Builders. Which is exactly the job I have been doing the last year since leaving my classroom. Let’s face it, teachers need this help now more than ever. I am thrilled that the organization I work for saw this need, and chose me to be the one to go out to do it! 

Just think about it with me… We are 16.5 years into the 21st Century, and we are still trying to figure out how to teach 21st Century Skills. There are so many amazing tools, and techniques out there, but often times meetings, district mandated professional development, and mountains of paperwork keep teachers from finding the needed resources to assist them in their work. In my role outside of my classroom, equipping teachers with incredible tips and tricks to make their classrooms better is what I get to EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. 

The teacher shortage is real. Years of the profession being beaten down and trampled have finally caught up with us. Our future Nation Builders are following other professions because of better pay, better benefits, and better professional respect. Back in June, a family member actually called me and asked me to talk my cousin out of being a teacher because they wouldn’t ever “be” anything… Sigh… Talk about a SMACK IN THE FACE! The teachers that are still educating in the classroom and the ones who are forging through their preservice work need someone encouraging them, to build them up, and to praise the work they are doing! In my role outside of my classroom, I get to do that EVERY. SINGLE. DAY!

There is nothing better than a teacher who is empowered to do great things. Teachers who are equipped with the tools they need and filled with encouragement from all those who applaud their work, will rise to new heights and it will be their students who reap the benefits. No, the test scores won’t all be high, and the report cards will not be filled with A’s, but the students will mimic their teachers empowered nature. They will take risks in their learning and try new things. They will conduct science experiments and attempt math problems that seem unsolvable. They will read books that are harder and create art they never thought they could. They will jump from the cliffs of learning and soar all because their teacher showed them how. Empowering teachers leads to changing the world, and in my role outside of my classroom, I get to do that EVERY. SINGLE. DAY!

So, back to my answer… yes, I miss my classroom. I miss the work of a Nation Builder. I miss the camaraderie of my grade level. I miss the constant encouragement of my principal. I miss the parents who become my best friends in 180 days. I miss the support that always came from my district and the way they celebrated my accomplishments. I miss the smiles of each little person who walked into my door…

But knowing that I can help other teachers fuel their passion for the career that I love, made the “missing” worth it. Here’s to another year ahead of equipping, encouraging, and empowering.