Wednesday, January 11, 2017

When I'm Not A Teacher I Become A Better Teacher

this is also the #WeirdEd week 133 post
I promise a picture of myself as the header
 image is relevant and not just an ego trip.
I like to ride my motorcycle. I do it every chance I get. It's my main mode of transportation unless the weather is awful or I need to get supplies to or from school. Riding a motorcycle makes me more aware of my surroundings. Not only the unique way I experience the world, the vivid smells and views, but also because a motorcyclist always has to keep their head on a swivel. You people in your cars can be scary and in a contest between the two of us you'll always win. Perched on two wheels, I see more, smell more, experience more, and am constantly aware of those around me. I think this heightened awareness and appreciation comes into my classroom. It's part of who I am when I'm teaching because it's part of who I am when I'm not.

I write for fun. If you come over to my house after my children have gone to bed, odds are good I'm upstairs writing. Writing for the CUE blog I edit. Writing for this space. Writing another book, be it education-focused or fiction. Writing is a constant process of creation and revision. It's working when you don't feel it and it's reflecting on what you've done in order to do it better. Writing is failing and struggling. All the writing I do helps me appreciate the process I'm asking my students to undertake when I send them away with suggestions to "try it again, but with this." It means when they say they don't have any ideas I have experience with that feeling and how to get around it. I don't write in class, I don't write for my kids. I write for me. But it's part of who I am when I'm teaching because it's part of who I am when I'm not.

I'm obsessed with music. I can't get enough. I've got my preferred genres, like anyone. Given the choice I'll pick Ozzy's Boneyard on XM and air guitar and headbang my way to my destination. I know those songs backwards and forward and I like thinking about them, dissecting them. I like picking apart Master of Puppets as much as I like delving deep into the texts we read in class, and it's the same muscle so doing one makes me better at the other. In the same vein, I like finding new music, things that challenge me. That band or album that makes me think, "I have no idea if I like this. But it's so interesting, I must hear it again." Using music to push myself and challenge myself and open myself to greater understanding or different forms of creativity. Like when I ask kids to take a risk on a new skill. Like when I decide to take a leap on a different form of teaching. I've trained myself to experience something new, not get it, and keep at it until I figure it out. I don't play Frank Zappa or Sun Ra or Run the Jewels for my kids. But what I learned learning to listen to them comes into my teaching and my classroom. It's part of who I am when I'm teaching because it's part of who I am when I'm not.

This list could go on. The books I choose to read. The ways I'm learning to parent. The movies and tv shows I watch. The vacations I go on, theater I see, people I choose to hang out with, tattoos I have, my politics. None of those things have anything directly to do with the students who come into my classroom every day and the way they learn, but all of them are a part of me, so they are a part of my classroom. Not long ago I wrote about writing my first novel and how I brought that to my kids to talk about what I learned by writing it. That was a great conversation that wasn't in the curriculum, except it is. Sometimes we bring who we are openly into the classroom. But not everything. The building blocks of personality that are so much a part of us that we might not even know they're in our classrooms.

When I reflect on teaching and learning, I try to see those blocks. Because I know that I'm not a Teacher. I know that teaching is what I do, it's what I'm called to do, and what I love doing. But it's a part of me, not Who I Am. How I'm not a Teacher makes me a better teacher.

How are you not a Teacher? How has that made you better at teaching?

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