Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Teaching Like a Brain Surgeon

Teaching is made up of many things. Small and big moments. Lesson plans, essays, grades,data and books. I came to expect these parts of the job when embarking on the teaching profession, but no one ever told me teaching was life or death. I knew teaching was a career that meant something. Teachers make a difference and do good work. Yet, it wasn't until I started working with all inner-city, black, males that I started to feel the immense pressure of what I had signed up for. My job is to educate my students: to help them navigate through the world of literature and grammar; to introduce them to the concept of code switching and Standard English; to ignite their love of reading and writing. I always do this to the best of my ability every single day.

 Since last year, there has been something creeping at me from the sidelines that I didn't expect. It was this hovering threat of what would happen to my students if I didn't accomplish my task. If I didn't do my job well, and they were not prepared for college and the world beyond...what was going to happen to them? I began thinking and obsessing over every little occurrence in class. Every moment that was wasted. Every time I had to redirect a student and was put off track. Looking back at last year, I realized how hard I was on myself. Even my bad days weren't that bad-- my students learned, but was it enough?

On days when I was especially stressed out about class and my students' growth, I literally had to remind myself that I am in fact NOT a brain surgeon. It's something I think all educators have to remind themselves sometimes. Unlike brain surgery, it's okay to not be perfect in the classroom. It's okay to not get the exact results you want the first time.

I started pouring over news reports and blogs about youth violence in Chicago, and graduation statistics of black males in CPS. One particular article I found about the School-to-Prison Pipeline  made me really think of my students' safety and success within the school system. I was already aware that students were not always safe outside of school. This article made me realize that at some schools, students aren't even safe when they attend. It quickly became  clear to me: I may not be a brain surgeon, but I should teach like it is a matter of life or death, because at times, that may be an unfortunate alternative.

 No matter what, I will continue to change and adapt to my students and my world, and numbers and data aside, that is what will mold me into a great educator. I know I am not alone in this. I will continue to hold tight to the belief that education saves lives. I believe that the population I am working with deserves teachers who treat their job with urgency and intensity. Yet, on days when I don't feel like my lesson was the best it can be, instead of obsessing over every minute detail, I will think about what my students accomplished and walked away with. Most of all, I will think about what I need to change to make it better. Is there a change I can implement next year, or is there something I can do for tomorrow to make my students' experience more productive?

I believe that if people don't view a quality education as something that can in fact save lives, we are missing an important point. I think there are going to be a lot of educators out there who can relate to the responsibility of working with youth in the world today. To the educators out there remember- You are NOT a brain surgeon. You are doing good by your students, and as long as you never give up, you will always leave them with something valuable, whether it was on the lesson plan or not.

Okay, so every moment in class is not a life or death situation. However, if we as teachers are not successful over a period of a child's academic career, their quality of life can be adversely affected. So, yes, I do see my job as critical, and there are times when I want to shout it from the roof tops! I want society to stop viewing my profession as something menial and unimportant. More importantly, we as teachers need to always view ourselves as the leaders of our classrooms, and as someone powerful in our students' lives. Sure, we may not be brain surgeons, but we have a very important job to do, and we should never forget it.