As soon as you trust yourself you will know how to live.
—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
When the basket of meditation stones was passed to me at the writing retreat, I knew I would pick the black one. My favorite rock is obsidian, so I could almost feel the cool smoothness of the flat black stone before I picked it up and turned it over to see what word it held for me. I lurched in my seat when I saw the word. How could this rock know about the uncertainties and fears I try so hard to keep locked up inside?
My meditation stone’s admonition?
The writing retreat is long past, but I am still carrying my rock. I have made it a point to be still and listen to it whenever I find myself slipping into a place of doubt or hesitation, when I question myself and wonder if I am “good enough.” Here’s what my trust rock has taught me so far:
10 Reminders to Trust Yourself as a Teacher in These Times of Change and Challenge
1. You are a reader.
You read widely, even though you’re not always aware of it. Make a list of all the different kinds of reading you have done in the past week. You’ll be amazed. Your students will be, too, when you share your list with them. You know the reading process from the inside out, and some of the most powerful lessons you teach begin with, “Last night after I turned the TV off and I was reading for my half an hour before bed, I was noticing the way I…” You can have a successful reading conference just by sitting down beside a student and asking the kinds of questions you love to be asked when you are chatting with another reader: “What are you reading? Why did you choose that book? What is this book making you thinking about or wonder?”
2. You are a writer.
You have stared at a blank screen or a blank piece of paper, struggling to choose just the right words for the email to a parent, the paper for class, or the letter of complaint to the company. Every piece of writing does not earn royalties, but when your writing reaches the intended audience, it is published. And whether or not you actually share your writing with a critique group, you know the leap of faith it takes to ask someone for their opinion of your writing. These are things you ask students to do every day in writing workshop, but because you are a writer, you will do so with the encouragement and patience that come from living within the writing process yourself.
3. You are a learner.
You savor all the new experiences life brings you through travel, classes, reading, documentaries, and the challenges of adult life. (“What’s the best roof I can buy on my budget, and which company do I want to hire to replace my roof?”) Every time you encounter an opportunity to learn, you are interested not just in the information, but also in the process you use to comprehend it and the effectiveness of the presentation of that information. Because you are a learner, you will create a classroom that accommodates all kinds of learning styles, and you’ll present information in rich and engaging ways.
4. You continue to push the boundaries of your comfort zone with technology.
You have quit trying to keep up with “everyone else” when it comes to technology. You are a learner, and as you are introduced to tools that will make your work easier (or possible), or that will allow you to create things that are useful or beautiful, you add that tool to your technology toolbox. You are keenly aware that sometimes it is better for your soul to spend an hour walking in nature noticing the clouds and the birds and the trees than it is to spend that hour online.
5. You nurture professional relationships with colleagues.
You know the students come and go in nine-month waves, but the lighthouses in your teaching life are your colleagues. Whether that is one person in your building, a group in your grade level or department, or a far-flung hodgepodge of teacher friends you know and keep up with through blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, or other online communities, you know how important it is to have at least one person you can depend on to help you find your way in this complicated and challenging journey we call teaching.
6. You understand the importance of community in the classroom.
You have a keen sense that the work you do in your one classroom will affect the future of our entire nation and, possibly, the world. Even more than the skills and information that you teach, you know that the attitudes of collaboration, civility, patience, kindness, perseverance, flexibility, and acceptance (among many others) are what will serve your students well in whatever walk of life they choose. And because your students will be running the government and corporations of your future, as well as theirs, you know that your own future depends on the kind of citizen you release to the next grade level or the world.
7. You accept every birthday treat you are offered by a child.
You believe that every child is a unique and valuable part of your classroom community. You bring this belief to life when you accept every birthday treat (even if you just take one bite and “save it for later”), learn to pronounce and spell every name, value every religious holiday and tradition, and take the time to make personal one-on-one contact with every child every day.
8. You’ve seen what a difference a positive note or phone call home can make.
You never let yourself forget that each child in your classroom is someone’s baby. You develop a set of educational hopes and dreams for each child, but you always remember that on the other end of the bus ride, there is a family who also has a set of hopes and dreams for that child. Your connection to the child’s family through your positive notes and phone calls creates a web of caring and support for the child.
9. You are not afraid to make mistakes.
You are human. You have learned that it takes more energy than you possess to try to be, or appear to be, perfect. One of the best lessons you teach every year is not simply that you make mistakes, but that you pick yourself up and carry on after you make a mistake. You learn, apologize if necessary, repair any damage… and carry on.
10. You know that some of the most powerful lessons you teach will yield results that cannot be measured on any test.
You are at peace (most of the time) with the realization that teaching is at least as much an art as it is a science. Some years, no matter how well you teach, the results will not show in the test scores, but that does not mean that the results of your teaching do not reside within the hearts and minds of the students you taught. Every test is a snapshot of a child as a learner. In the same way that snapshots with cameras reveal bad hair, closed eyes, and accidentally unfortunate composition, testing snapshots will capture all kinds of momentary results along with the lasting results you are hoping for. And that’s okay, because you trust yourself.