Monday, July 21, 2014

What Are the Really Important Lessons I Learned as a Teacher?

I left the classroom under some really harsh circumstances.  The British Columbia teachers’ strike/lockout closed down the schools suddenly and the last two weeks of school just didn’t happen.  I didn’t get to say a proper good-bye to my students.  Instead, I spent my last two weeks on the picket line.

I want to say good-bye to all the wonderful students I have taught.  And there have been so many.  Grade 7 is considered to be a tough grade to teach.  Grade 7 educators deal with raging hormones, anxiety over the future, crushes, bullying, supporting students through more challenging curriculum, overnight trips to camp and more.  I loved (almost) every minute of it.  I had so many adventures with my students.  More importantly, I learned a lot from them.

Coaching basketball is just one example.  I am not a fan, I don’t understand the game or the rules and I have no skills.  That didn’t stop me from trying.  It took three years before I even understood the purpose of the pick.  My students were so understanding and supportive and they taught me that not knowing something is no reason for not trying.  Take a chance and do your best.  You never know what might happen.

They taught me what culture means.  While the Grade 7 Social Studies curriculum is all about ancient civilization and culture, until you experience significant cultural differences for yourself, iI don’t think you really “get it”..  I was lucky to be immersed in the South Asian culture for over a decade.  I was introduced to butter chicken, saris, Bollywood, Bhangra, Punjabi, the Ghardwara and more.  My students inspired me to travel to India and what I experiences there will enrich my life forever.

They taught me about courage.  I was honoured to be part of groups of inner students heading for camp.  Many had never been away from home and virtually none had ever gone camping.  They hiked, the canoed, they climbed cliffs and braved the high ropes despite their fears, walking away from each adventure with cheers of triumph and a grin on their faces that was infectious.  They vowed that these experiences would inspire them in the future.

I learned not to fear failure.  This is something you tell students over and over again, but it took years for me to learn that lesson myself.  My first leap into the unknown happened over 10 years ago, when I shifted my teaching  practice to focusing on project-based learning.  Believing that I would find away through the challenges meant I needed to evaluate each step forward and each step back.  I became a risk-taker and I loved the freedom that gave me to be a creative and more fulfilled person.

They showed me that quality learning experiences are essential.  I struggled for years against poor funding, poor resources and poor opportunities for these exceptional people who needed these types of opportunities.  Now, I will take these lessons I learned and try to create a learning environment where all of these experiences are celebrated.  Yes….I am opening my own learning commons, a place for learners, creators, makers and risk-takers of all ages can find the resources they need.  I plan to teach only own terms and try to make a difference in the only way I know how.  That is something I learned was important from my students as well.