When I began teaching in the early 2000s, to earn high marks on my teacher evaluation, I needed to show that I was the boss and first in command in my classroom. One of my principals in those early years compared me to a teammate, who taught in a way completely different than I did. My philosophy was always about building relationships and letting kids have choice and voice, so when my boss walked into my classroom, it was too noisy and I was labeled too nice. I was told to work on my classroom management, in a way that felt foreign to me, and within two years, I quit and didn’t think I’d ever return to the classroom.
When I returned to the classroom about four years later, and as a mother of four young children, I wasn’t the same person who walked out. Older and wiser, I realized that what I offered young people was exactly what they needed. The relationships I still had with many former students and their parents was proof. When I joined Twitter that first year of going back, it was validating and incredible to find many educators who were like-minded and like-hearted: relationships first, student-centered, and fun!
But, I had to work through a mindset that said I was lacking if I wasn’t entirely in control. I had to hope that my principal would see the beauty in, what times seemed, chaotic. She did. The more I learn from my amazing professional learning network (PLN), the more I learned what giving the reins to students, for the deepest form of learning, really looks like. But they didn’t teach us this in college. For many of us, it really is a mindset change from what school used to look like to what it could be if we would just let go of the control.
The current pandemic has educators teaching from their computers and finding as many ways as possible to connect with their students and families. It’s to be expected that we are learning more than we can actually teach.
One huge lesson to take from this season is that we can’t expect to replicate school routines in students’ homes. We can’t have ridiculous expectations of being the center of a student’s world. There’s a pandemic going on! The lessons we give need to be more about flexibility than control. It’s extremely hard to get into this mindset when, for years, we’ve been evaluated on being the boss of our classrooms, but we are no longer the boss of our classrooms. We are no longer in our classrooms.
A message many parents need to hear from Educators and Leaders is that the well-being of students and families are top priority, not lessons, not virtual meetings, not assignments, and definitely not grades. Life is priority right now, and maintaining the best health in all areas is what we need to focus on. Now is not the time to exert control and consequences. It is the time to exert flexibility and compassion.
Parents, I’m writing on behalf of so many educators who feel this way, and we know you work hard to meet every expectation, and we thank you for that. If you are feeling overwhelmed, cut back. You don’t need our permission, but you have it. You have our support. Take care of you and your children. If that means that not all assignments are complete, we understand. Lessons are not priority. Life is.
There will be so many gems we will learn in this season…if we let go of the control.