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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Do you still have the idealism you had when you started? 4 ways to regain and keep your enthusiasm

At a recent outing I was discussing teaching with some new acquaintances when one of them threw out the following question "I wonder how many teachers still have the idealism they had when they first became a teacher?" I have pondered this for the past week as I think it is an insightful and reflective question to ponder. I would like to think that I still have that enthusiasm and zeal. Certainly there is an innocence that all idealism springs from and along the way the innocence is altered and in some cases hardened. I have tried to be true to the beginner exuberance and add my years of experience to hone, intensify, and keep it fresh. In Zen Buddhism the phrase 'Shoshin' means 'beginner's mind'. It basically means to have the enthusiasm and open mindedness of a beginner. I not only try to instill this in myself, but in my students as well. Everyone is excited, or should be, the first few weeks of school, that excitement can be tempered and dampened by January. I believe it's important to remind myself and students of Shoshin. I have a few ideas that I will present that work for me.

1. Be invested. For me this means I know each and every student. I work hard to build a relationship of trust so that when the disappointments of December arrive I have solid footing with which to work with each student. I don't play favorites, rather try to make each student feel as if they are my favorite(a tough task with tougher students no doubt). I am not always as successful as I would like to be and certainly there are students that face stiff challenges and lack good social skills and awareness, but aren't those ones part of the reason we became educators? My goal is to be able to have frank conversations with students and have them want to change instead of resenting me. Within the first week each student should feel that I know who they are, value them as a person, and that they feel that they can be successful in my class.

2. Keep it fresh. Teaching the same thing again and again loses it's luster quickly. If you are new teacher you are just trying to stay above water, but if you have taught for sometime it's nice to have lessons and units from past years to use. While there is much merit in this it can also lead to burnout. I believe that the best educators are ones that take what they have and build on it every year. This past year I added a much more global element to my class. We skyped, we communicated, we shared, we collaborated, we did projects together, we had neat opportunities to meet and share with the world. Some of this put me behind where I normally was and I had to make decisions on what was most important. I felt I needed to branch out globally as much if not more than my students. I found the entire process invigorating in a way that I had never had in any way. We made presentations for schools all over the US, Canada, the UK, Ireland, and even Asia and Africa. Students not only got to meet others from these parts of the world, but they worked on assignments together. It was a thrilling process that required a lot of patience, at times I wasn't sure things would all work out, but in the end it became my favorite year. There were definitely some stressful moments, but the rewarding ones far exceeded even my most ideal expectations. I could have just retaught the same old lessons, and in some cases I did, but I needed to freshen things up for me which in turn made things better for all. A special thanks to Ms. Lynda Hall, Trevor Connolly, and the Kacherede Primary School in Uganda for taking a chance on my ideas and making them a reality.

3. Don't think you know it all. The years have given me experience and wisdom. I have become polished and confident. These can be good qualities. They can also lead to a feeling that you don't need to improve and that you are better than you are. The enemy of greatness is goodness. If you think you are good enough tnen you will never find out if you can be great. That doesn't mean you should wallow in doubt, it's important to be confident. It does mean you should actively learn and grow and try to better yourself. I have found that my experiences in conferences such as UCET and ISTE have not only been enlightening and inspiring and refreshing, but I found a community of like minded educators that I didn't know before. I realized through these experiences that I may not have all the answers, but I knew a whole community of inspiring educators who would help me along the way. If I thought I knew it all I wouldn't have gone and then this would be a much different entry.

4. Be positive. Is there anything that is more of a downer than hanging out with negative people? Sure life is tough and teaching can be difficult in it's best moments. However, cynicism brings out the worst in everyone. It is the polar opposite of creativity, innovation, and enthusiasm. My rule for having a bad day is simple: I won't have two in a row. I will change whatever needs to be changed, whether is it my attitude, the lesson, the material, the assignment, the activity, or the students. I will reflect and determine what needs to be done and then I do it. I can say that since I came up with this mantra over ten years ago that I have never had two bad days in a row. People are drawn to those that inspire them. Choose to be inspirational, remember your Shoshin, and you will make it through the tough times that will inevitably arise. I think it's also important to remember that bad times will pass, you will make it through, might as well do it with a smile. I have included one of my favorite quotes/videos. This is from Conan O'Brien's last show. He was disappointed about being let go, but still remained positive. The message is for us all.

Whatever your profession is I hope you enjoy it. Try to live Carpe Diem instead of just talking about it. Know your students. Care about your students. Care about your subject. Change it up and teach something new. Be humble and ask for ways to improve. Be positive. Remember you get decide what you teach everyday and how you deliver it. Autonomy is awesome. Be kind. If you have lost the enthusiasm you once had, find it, regain it, do whatever it takes to get it back. And on those dreary winter days remember your Shoshin; not only will you be glad you did, but your students will too.

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