This was in my Twitter feed last night. I don't know these teachers. I actually don't follow any of them. But I KNOW this struggle. It is REAL. (I know this expression is overused. but in this instance it felt necessary.)
I see a few things going on here. Bill, Emily, and Mari are all educators who are in the throws of post -school-year or pre-school-year self-reflection. Like so many of us, it is not pretty! Bill has "cemented some bleak perspectives" in writing his self-reflection and he is still trying to get to a place where he is ready to begin again. Emily says "I am just really, really, really down on myself at the end of every school year." As I read through the thread I thought for sure that Mari was going to be the positive voice of reason and then she admitted, "Last year was horrible for me." I may be 100% wrong but given that these educators are tweeting out about self-reflection and their practice in the middle of the summer, I'm inclined to believe that they're not so bad. Yet they are all, in one way or another feeling pretty crappy about the year they just had. I hear this a lot when I talk to teachers. I'm not talking solely about the ones in my school either. I spend a good deal of time with teachers from other districts and even other states over the summer and the sentiment is always sort of the same. The general idea is: "I didn't quite measure up again." or "I kind of sucked it again this year."
One thing I notice when I listen in to these conversations or I read threads like the one above is that teachers almost always blame themselves. It is never the kids and seldom the administration or parents. Teachers take the full brunt of responsibility on their shoulders. I've also noticed that this is one profession where, long before SMART goals and teacher evaluation systems were in play, teachers were reflective and demanding of themselves. Teachers have held themselves to a very personal list of exceedingly high standards forever. And generally, we've fallen short. I really do believe in goal setting and self-reflection. I mean, honestly, I'm 41 days into a blog written for the sole purpose of self-reflection. But, what I'm wondering about is whether this brand of self-reflection is truly good for teachers and our students. Since when did self-reflection become an exercise in identifying each and every weakness while losing sight of the daily victories and successes? I never hear teachers say, "Wow, I just had a truly brilliant year!" or "Listen while I outline all the ways I shined." When teachers DO have a positive self-reflection all the credit is typically attributed to the students. How often have I heard, "Well, I had a really great class and they worked really hard to make these gains."
What I'm wondering about is the "WHY"? Is this just the nature of teachers? Are we sort of just wired to engage in this kind of uber-critical self-reflection? Or, is this the result of a culture where there are impossibly high standards for teaching and learning compounded by an evaluation processes with emphasis on student test scores and the labeling teachers? I'm also wondering about the long term impact? Surely this is not the type of self-reflection that leads to inspired teaching. Doesn't inspired teaching involve risk-taking? Aren't we most apt to take risks when we're feeling good about ourselves? (I'm not suggesting that evaluators artificially puff us up so we'll take risks.) I'm wondering how long teachers can sustain a positive effort when they're feeling like this. How long will @rebelmusicteach, A.K.A. "Emily Goes Pop" be teaching music if year after year she feels terrible about her practice? What about burnout? How many of us will give up and leave teaching altogether?
I'm wondering what is leading teachers to this type of self-reflection. I'm wondering if it is productive. I'm wondering what evaluators, ed. leaders, and teachers can do to change this cycle of negative self-reflection followed by another disappointing year? Would I want one of my own children in a class with any of these teachers? If I'm being honest, probably not. Yet, if you just scroll back, you'll see that I am exactly like these three. I have analyzed my last year and come to the very same conclusion. I was not my best.
I know that we can't truly control the things that evaluators will say about us but as teachers we can control the things we say about ourselves when we evaluate our practice.
I'm going to make a real effort to allow myself to see all the things I do well and to set some reasonable goals for improving my practice. Then, I'm going to work hard to lift up my colleagues too. That'll be easy. They are amazing! I'm hoping that this positive energy will help me to take risks, to believe in myself, and to take time to notice the things I'm doing well. I'm hoping positivity will fuel a year marked by inspired teaching and learning!