The Gift of Words
2017. What a year. I’ve been wrestling with how to write this post because this is my last post as a college student. I’ve been writing about my experiences since January 2014 and every new semester has been a challenge and a benefit. As I was counting down to the end of my classes, I was trying to figure out a way to write the finale of this chapter in my life with some kind of closure befitting my journey. Then Olivia’s blog post came across my twitter feed and I had my answer.
Olivia Van Ledtje is a ten year old girl who has a passion for reading, sharks, and so much more – and she’s been rocking social media with her message @thelivbits. I met Olivia at The National Council of Teachers of English Annual Conference this last November and instantly connected with her passion and energy for making reading a big and awesome deal. I sat in on her last session on Sunday and found her conversation about Digital Identity as it relates to students and teachers to be ground breaking in many ways. I followed her on twitter and decided she was one of the smartest and wisest 10 year olds I had ever known.
Olivia writes on a blog and a recent post crossed into my world today. It’s titled, “#TheGiftofSimple“, and you should most certainly stop what you’re doing and give it a good read through – maybe even twice if you can. Then come back here and continue. Good? Good. So I read her post and found her perspective on words like a bonfire being lit in the frigid wilderness of my mind post finals and classes. And it warmed up my neurons and I knew I had found the inspiration necessary to close out the semester and have one last curtain call. So I’ll borrow OIivia’s opening line from her post to help get me started,
“Have you thought about words you’ve been gifted in 2017 and what you’re meant to learn from them?”
So here are my words for 2017 and what I’m meant to learn from them.
Learning is an important thing for everyone – you should never stop learning. This year was the year of learning. Learning about teaching, about marriage, about classroom management, about student’s needs, about student’s learning, about student’s passion, and about student’s worlds. We were constantly reminded in our classes that the idea of a “Life Long Learner” is something we have to take to heart as soon as possible. We don’t want to be several years into stubbornly teaching our way and our things refusing to see the beauty of something different and new in the world of education. It also extends to beyond that – are we willing to learn about things outside our comfort zone? Are we willing to engage with folks who don’t believe the same, speak the same, act the same, learn the same, sing the same, insert verb here the same as us? Are we willing to learn about differences and celebrate them versus building a literal or metaphorical wall between us? I always want to be the learner – even in my classroom. I may be the adult in the room and I may be dressed like a teacher – but I still have so much to learn and experience in my life. I never want to stop being the learner.
Growth is the compendium to Learner. You can’t learn without growing. Growing can be applied to physical but I think it applies to growth in knowledge, in wisdom, in maturity, in emotions, and in every area of my life. The reason I separated this out from Learner is that within education there is a growing chorus of voices discussing the concept of “Growth Mindset” and how we look at our students. It’s the idea that we set our focus with them on growth versus the negative concerns we have with the student. It’s looking at students who have been designated Special Education or labeled as disabled – and while acknowledging the struggles – we focus on how this student can grow, can learn, can adapt, can have scaffolds put in place, and that we can use whatever tools, methods, pedagogical theories/systems to help them grow and learn. Growth is where our students discover that they can do it, that we believe they can do it, and we’ll help guide them through the learning so they can master the concepts. But growth isn’t just for our students. It’s for us. We have to keep growing. I have to keep growing. I have become a student of the education game. There is no one way to do things in education and the classroom. There’s a thousand ideas, a thousand theories, and a thousand methods – and a good portion of them work with students. I can never stop growing in my field. And I wouldn’t want to.
One of my favorite John Wayne movies is “True Grit” and this year has been full of me having to dig deep to find my inner grit. A definition of the word says,
to have courage and resolve; strength of character.
This year has been full of challenges and tests. From the incredible load from classes featuring essays, reading, more essays, and projects galore – it has been a busy two semesters. Together with my recent wedding last January – my wife and I have been working through plenty of challenges of being married in the midst of my last year of classes in college. It’s tasked us to have that courage and resolve to get through the tough times where I was buried in school work and our time together was limited. It also tasked us to work through how that made us both feel. Grit has been a part of the year – and I think it’s taught me how to buckle up and carry on. Student teaching is but (at the time of this blog) 20 days away and closing fast. Together with the madness of spending those limited days with both sides of the family – I’ll be sliding around the bend and racing to cross the line into that first day. Plenty of reading, preparing, and more preparing will be had before that first day. But with the experience of this year and the hard learned lessons that have granted me a larger capacity for grit – I am more prepared for the coming storm.
This year I’ve learned that I will never be a perfect teacher or educator. I will always be under construction and a work in progress. And the word refine has been sitting in the back of my mind for the last few weeks. The full definition says,
remove impurities or unwanted elements from (a substance), typically as part of an industrial process. synonyms: purify, process,
improve (something) by making small changes, in particular make (an idea, theory, or method) more subtle and accurate. “ease of access to computers has refined analysis and presentation of data” synonyms: improve, perfect, polish (up), hone, fine-tune “helping students to refine their language skills”
Every day I will have a lesson plan for my classes. And every day I will teach that lesson. There will be a difference between what I put to paper and what ended up happening in the room. Some days there will be small differences. Other days there could be a canyon of difference between the two. But I will have to return to the written and refine it to make it more effective, more relevant, and better at helping my students master the concept we’re working on. I’ll be refining my teacher persona as well – how my speech, how my position in the room – all of things we have to wrap our hands and heads around as teachers. And I will have to be open to others suggestions on how I can refine my craft. Humbleness, not pride, is the way to go in the classroom. This year I’ve seen pride and arrogance get the better of both veteran and new teachers alike – it can be quite easy to slip into it if you’re not careful.
2017 has been a great year. This semester I’ve fallen even further in love with teaching. I cannot imagine doing anything else. My stellar professors, my incredible host teachers, those I met at NCTE 2017, and to the kind and giving teacher folks on twitter – you have made 2017 full of words that I will take with me into my student teaching and future classroom. I wish I could numerate them here but it would turn into a dissertation. My hope is that I will have plenty more words to talk about at the end of next year. I will be blogging and podcasting my way through student teaching here, but the format and the look may change. To you, dear reader, thank you for coming on this long journey with me. I hope you’ll join me on the other side of 2018 as I step into the classroom and start the marathon to my own classroom filled with students.
Thank you for reading. Happy Holidays and a Merry Christmas to you and yours.