I'm about to write about what is on my mind. Kind of. I mean, it is not like it is monopolizing my every thought...I've just stopped to think about it here and there...definitely more than I should. I realize that it is complete and total nonsense. I know I shouldn't give it a single thought. Nonetheless, I have, and here I go, I'm now writing about it!
My team spent our PD day planning a PBL unit. We were pretty pleased with how it came together. There is nothing super special about what we've planned. Really, there isn't. We just liked what we came up with. We liked the simplicity. We liked that it tapped into our local resources. We liked the message the unit would send our students. We were all pretty excited.
I was on Twitter today. BAM! There was a photo. It caught my eye. Another school, another fourth grade class, pretty much did EXACTLY what we had planned to do. They did it first. They tweeted it out. We know them...well. Now, when we do it, it is going to look like we were inspired by that other fourth grade class. We weren't. Honest! I shared the tweet with my teammates. They felt the same way I did. How could this be? We really thought we had a unique and new angle.
Here is an even better question: Why does it even matter? Intellectually, I know that it shouldn't. I really do. If what we do is about the kids and their learning, then it REALLY shouldn't matter where our ideas come from. It shouldn't matter if we are inspired by the teacher on Twitter or the teacher next door. If our focus is on creating meaningful learning opportunities for kids then it doesn't matter. Here is an ugly little truth about teaching: we often let it matter.
Honestly, teaching is a competitive field. You wouldn't think that it would be. Here in MA we've fought back against merit pay. Still, there are other ways that school committees and administrators encourage competition over collaboration. In my district, like in many others, a single teacher is awarded a "best teacher' award twice annually. This award recognizes teachers who go above and beyond. They receive a trophy. His/her picture is put in the local paper and on the district website. In my building, a single teacher is recognized for acknowledging positive student behavior more often than his or her colleagues. Really. He or she gets a prize.
These awards and prizes are established with the very best of intentions. Still, I'm of the opinion that they do more harm than good. When I first started my career, I taught in a building where there hadn't been new hires in years. We were three new teachers in our early 20s on a staff of mostly 35-55 year-old teachers. We came with our project based learning (yes, back in the 90s this was a thing!) and our thematic teaching. I was even using the world wide web to communicate with scientists who were exploring Antarctica. We were "cutting-edge" and we got quite a little bit of praise from building and district administration. The other teachers would roll their eyes at us and call us shiny new pennies or perky young things. Praise, while it feels good in the moment, is a double-edged sword.
Social media has kind of exacerbated this problem. Teachers are encouraged to promote the learning that unfolds in our classrooms. The most virtuous of us share what we do to inspire others. We share in the interest of helping to lighten another teacher's work load. We post whole units to be shared because we believe in working hard but having our hard work have the greatest possible impact on student learning. However, every time I send out a tweet I worry about how it'll be received. Will It be perceived as boastful? Will teachers look at my work and wonder why I would ever share it because it lacks merit, or bling, or whatever? I sort of fear the eye roll of my colleagues...even colleagues from across the country, who I'll never ever meet. I'm ridiculous but I don't think I'm alone.
My students and I have accepted the #classroombookaday challenge. A librarian started it a few years ago. It is all over Twitter. We're reading 180 picture books this year. It is true awesomeness. My students LOVE this time spent reading picture books together. A teacher from my district did it last year. She loved it. She tweeted about it. I loved following her project on Twitter. Another teacher recently asked me, "oh, did you get the idea to do it from so and so?" There seemed to be a little tone when she posed the question. IT IS ALL OVER TWITTER. It is not a new or unique idea. Who cares where I got the idea? Isn't the fact that I'm doing it awesome enough? Not only do we have to do amazing, creative, things. but now we have to dream them all up ourselves in order to be truly worthy of praise or admiration or whatever.
I wish I didn't feel like teaching is competitive. I wish I didn't always worry about other's perception of me and my work. I wish we could simply focus on collaboration. Teaching can be competitive. It is just the way it is.