So now you’re fierce, are you? Fierce like, how?
For Part II, I want to talk more about being fierce. It’s not just standing up against the onslaught of union-bashing and data mashing designed to demean teachers. It’s being unafraid to fight for what kids really need And it’s about actively pursuing greater understanding in order to effectively do that. Being fierce means knowing and defending what you know from the people who don’t know.
That means a couple different things:
Chasing down the best you:
Refine and promote your professional practice. Know why you do what you do. Self-assess, and pursue opportunities to learn more. Also, gather and communicate with your colleagues and others in the profession. Get together both formally and informally to share, commiserate, brainstorm, plan loosely…Forums like The Educator’s Room are not just great for the articles and ideas. They are great because there you can find people who span a wide range of experiences in the field. Consider the people around you and within your online communities as resources. When able, a comfortable location and a glass of wine fuel some of the most powerful professional development there is. It’s time spent this way that can also strengthen the solidarity within the profession and within your school.
“Stress and Isolation don’t do Teachers any Favors” (Laura Hoffman)
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Defend that “you” without hesitation
Know that it’s not just about instructing. It’s also advocating for yourself, your students, your classroom, your school and your community. Much of the “failing schools” rhetoric has been intentionally focused on data to make it easy for education critics. They prefer to point and say “See, see? That’s where the failure is and why we need to reform schools and fire teachers!” But they avoid the bodies and souls to worship the scores. Policymakers and reformers like to pretend that being a hero is now just some unwritten part of that teaching job when it shouldn’t have to be. Since our society, economy and our policymakers have failed our students, we teachers by default are handed the hero job. But if that’s how politics is going to play us, then we need to be unapologetic about playing politics- and fighting hard.
“Connecticut has some of the highest rates of concentrated poverty and concentrated wealth in our country, and with that data comes some of the highest segregation rates too. We cannot ignore the impact that poverty has on our students. But all too often, we do ignore these facts, and instead look to the teacher to be our cure-all.” (Stacey O’Connor)
So being fierce is also about defending and promoting your heart and instincts regarding students, along with your development as a quality educator.
Be unapologetic and sincere in your willingness to do right by your students. If you are you can make progress with even the most difficult ones. They will feel your willingness to go the distance with and for them, and if you are lucky?
You might get to know you made a difference:
The hours, the days, the years become a huge investment of blood, sweat and tears. Sometimes a little note, dug out of a dusty box of old class lists, pictures, paperweights and pencil holders (just put away and almost never dragged back out again)…shows up years later to remind you:
This is what makes all the other crap bearable.
This note, though, really made me think. And not in the proud of myself, “I’m so great, ain’t I?” way. It made me a little sad. Imagine believing that no one else believed in you. Imagine being a third grader who struggles with reading and writing feeling so strongly about it that you would put it into words on paper. I mean, I’m glad I made a student more comfortable, but reading his words made my heart hurt.
How many students sit in our classrooms or walk by any one of us each day feeling that no one believes in them?
Being fiercely dedicated to children, not an agenda, is the moral imperative
I get to see quality teachers every day whose impacts would go unnoticed unless you witnessed them firsthand. Because I like New Year inspiration, I will share an Old Year story of a teacher I feel privileged to work with:
A colleague recently suffered a series of tragedies, starting with the loss of a son who was grown—but still a young man. Despite this, she kept her composure, her warmth, and her professionalism in front of the children she teaches.
One girl, in particular, had come down with a rather serious condition resulting from a strep infection that had not been effectively treated. The student, formerly bright, capable, active, and always well-behaved, had disappeared and been replaced by a withdrawn, nervous, malnourished ghost…but was slowly coming back.
This colleague found ways to be there for her class and involve and encourage this young girl on the heels of and in the middle of the series of her own personal tragedies (that would have had other teachers taking as many days/weeks off as their contract would allow). I watched and listened as she prepared to send kids off for the holiday break with a few small gifts and the advice to hug, love and thank their parents because their parents love them very much.
How she didn’t lose it—I don’t know. But I do know that her whole class, especially that little girl who is sitting three feet away from me right now and doing well, is blessed by the presence of this teacher in her school.
That was me, writing the story of my daughter Ella and her teacher two years ago. Education Post called for some inspiring submissions from the field, and even though I am not a contributor they included mine (at the end of the article).
Happy Fierce New Year
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