During these longer nights and shorter days, I often find time to reflect on my own journey as an educator. Coming up on 25 years very soon (gulp!), I can honestly say that I am not the same educator I was at the beginning of my career or even the same as I was five years ago.
Earlier this year I wrote a post about professional learning and realize as I reflect on my career that I also need to acknowledge the teachers down the hall. These educators have influenced and shaped my vision about students and teaching in so many ways through their mentorship, their permission to be human, and their examples as leaders. I want to dedicate this post to the teachers down the hall whose influence and teaching extended beyond students and to colleagues.
One of my favourite educators would always remind me, “You are human.” Teaching can be overwhelming and is often described as the job that never ends. I know there are times when I felt I could literally work 24 hours and still not have “finished”. However, we also need to understand that we are human. We need to give ourselves some grace for the weight of the work we do and know that we need time to recharge. Setting boundaries for work doesn’t make us bad teachers, it means we are humans who deserve the time for necessary self-care.
An intermediate colleague I worked with once asked me, “If you’re not having fun, how do you think the students feel?” In the light of all the curriculum expectations and data collection, it’s hard to remember to ensure that the class community enjoys their time together. Whether it’s engaging in community building, sharing funny stories, or a cool science experiment, having fun makes the learning environment a comfortable and safe place to be. It helps to build relationships between students and educators. One teacher I worked with always greeted his primary class with a morning joke and that was always brought up by students years later at every grade eight graduation. Those small moments where we have fun are sometimes the small moments that have a big impact.
Another mentor teacher would always tell me, “We teach children, not just curriculum.” It is so important to know each child that we share space with during the day. To recognize that they hold different identities and experiences, acknowledging that those factors influence how they feel seen at school. As teachers we all want students to feel welcome and that school is a place they belong. Getting to know and accept students’ full identities, such as cultural heritage and neurodiversity and everything in-between is necessary to create that feeling of belonging.
Working with another colleague, I learned “Be passionate about your own learning!” Teaching is a practice and one that we strive to get better at doing each year. Learning more about teaching strategies, resources, and new pedagogical research are all ways we can fuel our own professional learning. Trying new strategies helps to deepen our understanding of subject matter and to stay excited about teaching.
I reflect on those conversations and am so grateful to those teachers who gave me a shoulder to lean on and a listening ear. When I think back on the last two decades, it seems like no time has passed since my very first class. I feel like that same new teacher on the inside, though I have been shaped by different experiences and growth – much of that due to conversations and mentorship from those teachers just down the hall.
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