When I first started my teaching career, I remember receiving the classic instructions from "seasoned" educators of "don't smile before Christmas." Later, I came to find out that all new educators heard this little piece of bad advice. If we wanted to be taken seriously, by our students, we had to look "serious." Sadly, many educators become so accustomed to looking serious that the resting prick face has become their routine and daily look. They feel this persona is making them effective in the classroom and helping them manage their classes with an "iron fist." However, it is working against them and pushing them further away from their students. If negative words can trigger anxiety in the brain, imagine what tense facial expressions and body language do the minds of our students.
The face that we wear daily says a lot to our students. It communicates to them how we feel about them and how we feel about our jobs. If your face says loud and clear that you despise what you are doing (at least until Christmas), then it sends a message that you dislike the students that you should be serving. If we want to be realistic, every day is not a happy day for us--teachers are human too. However, I think it is better to allow our students to see us as adults process real emotions by turning frowns into smile. We have to model healthy ways of dealing with our emotions without taking it out on others. The faces that we wear are essential to our students because it is our first line of communication with them. When students are trying to feel our vibe, the first thing they look at is our face, and from there, they make an initial assessment of if we are indeed an authentic person or not. We all have the "game face" that we wear when we are ready to get down to business. However, your face should welcome students to an exciting game, not one that is intimidating and impersonal; a game that can't be played to win.
Take a moment to think back to that teacher who made a difference in your life. Your initial liking and connection with them probably had nothing to do with the content that they taught but the face that they choose to wear. I say "choose to wear" because the difference between smiling and frowning is a simple choice. It might be a hard choice for some of us, but it is a choice. Despite the trials that we face in our personal or professional lives, we must make a choice to get up every morning and put on our smiles. That educator who influenced you first had to inspire you. To inspire you, they had to make a conscious decision, daily, that despite what was happening in their lives, they were going to smile. Their smiles were going to radiate in the room and excite those who were in it. From that smile, empowerment came, and whatever the task was for the day, their smiles communicated to you that everything was going to be alright. When students enter our spaces, we must be mindful that some of them may feel as if there is no reason to smile. The burdens that they carry are so heavy that it has crippled their ability to find joy. The last thing they need to encounter are adults crippled by the difficulties of life, and their burdened face became their classroom face.
To this day, I still remember the face of my high school math teacher Ms. Hyde. From her light-skinned complexion that was adorned with freckles down to her pearly white teeth that complimented her hair as it hung down to her face. Every day, she greeted us at the door with her excitement and her smile. Her smile set the tone for the room. In a way, it was her classroom management. Now, don't get me wrong, she did get frustrated at times, but she followed her frustration with a smile. Seeing her smile made it feel as if the California sun was shining a little bit brighter in her room. The game face she chose to wear daily was one that pushed me to learn math and supported me when I failed at it. Her game face even moved me to continuously enroll in any class she was teaching because she calmed my anxieties about math and many other issues I carried to school with me. Ms. Hyde was consistent in who she was and the faces that she wore daily. To myself and many of my peers, that's what made her likable, relatable, and real. She held no punches when it came down to getting the job done and teaching math, but no matter how hard she pushed and pricked, we knew it was from a place of love because her face told us so. She smiled before, during, and after Christmas and was still able to create a learning environment that was structured yet fun. Math was happening in Ms. Hyde's room, and everyone wanted to be there. She got us in the game, and how she wore her "game face" inspired us to play the game, and we did it well if I do say so myself.
Be like Ms. Hyde and smile. It's okay to smile. Actually, it's inspirational to smile. Your students will have a better chance of winning the game of life when you SMILE.
I will never forget the conversations that were taking place in the teacher's lounge, during in-service, after my former principal instructed all teachers to halt instruction for the first two weeks of school and spend time getting to know every student. I thought this was a great idea, especially considering the urban school we were in and the demographics of students. However, this idea was not popular among my colleagues. "I have so much stuff to teach that I can not risk that much time," one teacher scoffed. Another felt "two weeks was too much time trying to get to know some kids. All I need is a day or two, but I have to get into teaching!" I was excited about the idea of quality bonding time, especially when we had permission from above to put connections over the content.
Our students are like different subjects to us. Before we journey into the unknown, we do our research. Before we let a person into our home, we get to know them. Thorough background checks take place before we are even trusted to receive clearance into a place of importance. Well, how is it that we expect students to feel welcomed in our environments and trust us with cultivating their minds when we will not even take more than two hours to start investing in a relationship with them? In the words of multicultural educator Gary Howard (2016), "we can't teach what we do not know," and our students will not learn from someone they do not know, respect, or trust. They may retain a certain amount of content, but real learning is not taking place.
During my middle school years, I was a real class act mainly because I was acting out. My mother was on the streets looking for her next high, my grandmother was continually working to support three more kids after raising her own seven, and my dad was trying to make sense of his new life post addiction. I had friends in school, but no real connections because I was too scared that someday they would come to my house, see my mother sleeping in her box on the porch to sober up, and then the world would know I was the daughter of a crackhead. The relationships that I did have were all based on my fears. They also filled voids for what I did not have at home. I had a play momma, play dad, and a host of play sisters and play brothers, but none of them were my real friends because they did not know the real me. I did not know the real me and would push anyone away who tried to get to know the real me. I spent more time skipping class than in class because of fears and insecurities. However, what did it matter? No one knew or cared that I was gone and when I did show up to class, it felt like every teacher was looking for the fastest way to get me out. My oldest brother was already the menace of the school and got expelled. I guess I was just like him, and not one educator made me feel any different.
I spent a lot of my time, during middle school, in in-school suspension with the ISS teacher Mrs. Jacobs. I will never forget the way she made me feel. ISS back then was not what it is like today. When you went to ISS, you did not go with tons of busywork. Most times, the teacher did not even care to send any work. My brother was already popular and had made a name for himself, so the ISS teachers were very familiar with who I was. I spent much of the time in this room talking. Even when I was not supposed to be in ISS, I spent my time in ISS. Not because of the place but because of the people--or one woman in particular. Because I longed for a maternal figure, I did one of two things when it came to women. I either pushed them away or clung tight to them. In the ISS room, I found someone I could cling to tightly.
She reminded me of my grandmother, but her "take no crap" attitude made me wish she was my mother.
Since there was no content to being taught in that room, connections developed in that room. Every day that I had to serve was another day for her to get to know and understand me. She would ask questions, give compliments, and help me identify my strengths. She wanted to know about my family, my likes and dreams, and she often told me stories about her family and her life. In her presence, I did not feel a burden and did not feel like I was a burden. I did not feel like I was being judged or compared to the likeliness of my oldest brother. Her interest in me was genuine, and I knew it. Because she knew me, she was able to see past the labels that were placed on me at 12 and planted a seed in my heart. The relationship we had was trusted because she respected me, my family, and my community. This was shown not only through her words but also through her actions.
Every day I went to ISS to talk or see if there was anything I could do to give her a hand. Because of the connection we had, I wanted to come back and file papers, clean the boards, or even wipe down the desks. Anything I could do to be in her space, I did it. I can recall when my mother finally went to prison while pregnant with my younger brother, she was one of the first people on the campus that knew what I was experiencing on the inside. Others assumed that my mother was "out in the streets," but no campus personnel ever asked me about it or how it made me feel. However, she did. When she heard that I would sit out on the baseball field alone and cry she sent for me and from then, I know I was more than just a troubled student to her. I was never expected or pushed to be above average. As long as I was "passing," I was "okay," in the eyes of my guardians. However, she pushed and inspired me to seek to be more than average and told me I could be better than my mother, sister, or brother. She made me not want to disappoint her (and she told me I better not bring my butt back to ISS) and from that point on, I fought to be better although it was still a daily struggle. It was her push that got me to my 8th grade graduation day (with Cs and Ds), and a time I will never forget.
It should NOT have taken a trip to the ISS room for an educator to stop and ask me, "what was up with me" when I was assigned to seven educators daily. Intervention should have happened well before then. The sign of a troubled student was written all over me, but, in my eyes, no one cared enough to really stop, read, and reflectively judge them. We should know our students well enough--early on--to know when something is off about them. If we cannot get close to them, then we must make it our duty to pursue them. They must become our one.
In my personal and professional career, I have seen teachers get so caught in what they were teaching that they did not notice changes in the whom they were teaching. The content we teach and the priority we place on it can become about us if we are not careful. We enter this race to nowhere, at the beginning of the year, and we leave our students behind in the dust as they are still trying to decide if they should trust us or not. We should place value and emphasis on relationships rooted in respect because when a student knows that we have a genuine interest in their well-being and not just their academic success, the results will come. Their lives should be our priority as we emphasize our desire to pursue genuine connections over teaching content. Before moving on to content, content, content, ask yourself what really matters to your students. Trust me, if you focus on building connections with each student, it will make your teaching of content and your students’ acquisition of this information easier and meaningful. This is not a call to neglect your subject matter or required standards. However, be mindful to make relationship building with each student a continual and daily thing. When real love is felt in the room where this teaching and learning are taking place all things will fall into place.
Alexes M. Terry
It's uncommon for us as educators to come to a point in our career where we feel we have reached our point of perfection. This point is where we believe we have mastered it all and we have no room for development. I was recently at that point and found myself scoffing at any Professional Developments or opportunities for growth that came my way. I had become that teacher who would sit in PDs and trainings and roll my eyes because I thought I knew it all. But boy was I wrong!
Because I did not feel like I was growing, I started to feel like I was suffocating in my career. I needed something new to get my hands on. Something that would challenge and push me. To pull myself out of this ditch I felt I was in, I decided to tackle becoming an Apple Teacher. Although I took this on as a “challenge,” I just knew that this task would be easy because I was a millennial who was #appleeverything. I use Apple products all day everyday, so how hard could becoming an Apple Teacher be, right? The day I decided that I wanted to work towards becoming an Apple Teacher, I ran to my campus 1:1 coach/tech guru and told him to send me the information to complete. Sign me on up! I bragged “oh, this will be easy because I’m good with technology. I use Apple products every day.” Once I got the information, I sat down that afternoon--on my conference period--and started my quest to earning my badges (you MUST earn a total of eight to become an Apple Teacher).
I started with the general iPad Starter Guide and quiz. After one try, I passed the quiz! “Oh, this should be easy,” I told myself again. My confidence was at a level 10 as my pride and ego fueled my ambition. Up next...PAGES. I opened the quiz and thought to myself, “who needs to read the Started Guide? I can do this in one shot like I did the iPad quiz.” I breezed through the five questions, gloating on the inside. When I finished the last question, I hit the “submit quiz” button and grinned from ear to ear because I just knew I was seconds away from earning my second badge. My quiz was graded and the screen displayed my grade of 2 out of 5. What?! I just knew that could not be correct, but okay… I’ll just retake the quiz. The second time around, I scored a 3 out of 5 and this continued to happen for the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th attempt. Even after skimming through the Starter Guide, I continued to fail. I was not as good as I thought. Or, was my mind in the wrong place to begin with?
I did not think I needed to grow and because my mind was in the wrong place, my capabilities remained in a stagnant place. See, when we don’t think we can grow, no matter how hard we try to grow, we can’t. To change the place that you are in you must first change the mindset that you are in. After failing numerous of times, I put the pride behind me and admitted that I did not know everything that I thought I knew. I needed to stop, open the Starter Guide and look at how I could grow in areas I thought I had mastered. Are there areas in your career, that you feel you have mastered, that you can still grow in?
Having a growth mindset is necessary, al all times, when in the field of education. There are always areas where we can grow personally and professionally. When we fail to seek out ways to grow in our profession, we limit the growth of our students. When we fail to seek out opportunities after opportunities, we miss out on the chance to provide our students with unlimited opportunities. The true purpose of education is to provide our students with opportunities to experience and learn something new. But, when we refuse to experience and learn things foreign to us then we are robbing our students of what they need to be successful in this ever changing society.
While some may view Professional Developments as a waste of time (some can be), we must go into any and all PD with a growth-mindset. If you feel that you can not benefit from a PD then your mind needs to be focused on how you can help others benefit from that PD. That’s growth! If you feel that you are “professionally developed” enough, then your next course of action is to lead professional developments. By leading school and district PDs, you can help other educators get to the level that you are on in your professional career. In doing so, you will grow as a master teacher on a whole “nother” level.
Alexes M. Terry
It seems that this year’s theme for me, personally and professionally, has been #growthmindset. If you follow me any on Twitter, lately I have been doing a lot of tweeting about how I am pushing myself to grow as an educator and how I am also pushing my students to seek out areas of growth. As educators, we sometimes tend to complain and gripe when it comes to Professional Development and other growth opportunities that take us away from our students. However, I have come to acknowledge that when I grow, my students grow right along with me. Isn’t that what we want?
A little bit of growth has never hurt anyone so why is it that we run from it or we are forced to do it? The nature of education is constantly changing and in order to remain knowledgeable in our field, and relevant to our students, we must find ways to meet them we they are and how we can creatively bring them to where we want them to be.
This year, I have taken on many opportunities for growth. While some could have been done at another time and others were literally a waste of time (I promise I tried to find the good it them), the best PD I decided to partake in, this year, was signing up for Graduate School and working towards a second Master's Degree in Education with a focus on Urban Education. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “graduate school does not really count as professional development.” However, if anyone is looking at how they can grow professionally and use their “growth” to revamp their teaching style/transform their classrooms, graduate school is the way to go--or at least taking some form of advanced educational classes.
When I entered my teaching career seven years ago, I entered fresh out of graduate school (History major) and via the alternative certification route. While I had no formal training in education, God blessed me with certain “teacher qualities” that helped me make it this far. While I was successfully in the classroom, comfortable with the content I taught, and effective when it came to reaching students, for years I was unsure of the “why” behind what I was doing and how I was doing it. I was self-taught when it came to educational theory and all of that other stuff you must know to be a teacher, but there still existed this void inside of me when it came to really understanding my students, what they need to be successful, and how the environment in which they live, and I teach, shape the culture of my school and classroom.
As an Urban Education major, during the first semester, the first two courses I enrolled in were Urban Education and Teaching In An Urban Environment. While both courses have changed the way I operate in the classroom and relate to my students, my Teaching In An Urban Environment course, has really helped me work through this “why” question and so far has tremendously changed me as an educator. My transformation started the first day of the course when our professor released her syllabus and explained her grading policy. She wrote, “while I have weighted each requirement with a point value, these values will be assigned democratically; this is, you and I will decide together what each point value should be” through Weekly Self Assessments. In my head, I automatically thought “what?! This can’t be right. If so, this is awesome!” Being in graduate school before, I was curious as to how this would work and her “why” behind Weekly Self Assessments.
To answer the questions she knew we were going to have, she challenged us to read Alfie Cohen’s The Case Against Grades and consider the “why” behind our grading practices in our own classrooms. After reading Cohen's article, which so happened to also be my first day of school (in the classroom), I immediately pulled up my own course syllabus and revamped my classroom to make it more “democratic”. To admit, that one change has made a tremendous difference to my classroom culture and how my students assess themselves and the work they submit. While I first thought it was going to be a “blow off” because students were all going to give themselves 100s, I was shocked when I saw my students actually reflecting over their week in my course and being honest about where they felt there was room for growth. I must admit that when students submit their Weekly Self Assessments, they are actually harder on themselves than I would have been on them (If you are interested in what a Weekly Self Assessment looks like, click here). Weekly Self Assessments have also made my grading load a lot lighter and has giving me something to look forward to when I settle down on a Friday night with a cup of coffee. My students also look forward to completing their Weekly Self Assessments because they enjoy having the opportunity to communicate to me how they feel about the structure and progress of the course and also know that their voices are being heard, thoughts and ideas are being considered, and they have input in the way the course is operated.
“We have to teach our students to understand that people are making decisions about them without them”. These words, passionately communicated by Christopher Emdin in a TED Talk on Urban Education have deeply resonated with me after viewing it multiple times. I was so moved by the words of Emdin that I shared his TED talk with my students and any colleague that would watch. One of my main goals as an educator is to teach students to be their own advocates. While some of them rely on their parents to serve as their voice, there are many students who do not have that pleasure. Either way, students need to understand that their voices matter and they must be their own activists when it comes to THEIR education. Emdin’s words also challenged me to look at my classroom through a different lens. While I sought to empower students to have a voice in their education, I did not create a democratic environment in my classroom that allowed them to make decisions about what they learned and how they learned. Coming to this realization, I made another change to my teaching style and created a space where students play an active role in shaping lessons and deciding how they will be evaluated. We are still working this one out, but I am confident that we will get there.
The area that I felt I was well versed in--understanding students from an urban environment--is the area I feel I have developed the most even though I am only getting started. Prior to this school year, I felt I was the master teacher when it came to relating and educating students who lived in urban areas. I thought I understood them because I was once them. However, via the readings and media provided through Teaching In An Urban Environment, I have come to realize that our students who live in urban areas of the 21st century face greater challenges that I was not exposed to growing up. Because of these challenges, these students, and the way we seek to educate them, must be approached from a different angle all the while offering them opportunities to experience this world through a different lens. While some educators may see students in urban schools as “not up for the challenge,” I have come to see teaching in an urban environment as the perfect opportunity to challenge students who see no way out to look at education as a means to their way out. Because of this, every opportunity that I can offer my students I do, because I know that the mere thought of someone believing in them can make a world of difference.
The field of education is not for lighthearted. As educators, we must be passionate about what we do and search for every opportunity to offer our students the tools they will need to be successful in this changing society. However, we can not meet them where they are if we refuse to seek what they need and an understanding as to how our unwillingness to grow can stifle the growth we hope to see in our students. I am not content with just being a “teacher” to my student. To them, I want to be the BEST teacher they have every had. When they see me, I want them to see someone who is constantly seeking out ways to improve and become a master at my craft. Because of this, I was crazy enough to become a graduate student all over again (as if one Masters Degree and a thesis wasn’t enough) and I must admit that, so far, this has been one of the best Professional Development opportunities for me. If you’re looking for ways to grow in your career, take courses towards a M.Ed...the teacher in you won’t regret it!
As we begin the 2017-2018 school year, we will encounter hundreds of students if you have yet to do so. Yearly, teachers meet their students at the door and greet them with a smile, but once the door closes the meeting and greeting stops or is reduced to the "name game." Teachers are so eager to jump into establishing a routine and give an overview of their course they forget how important it is to get to know your students and making sure that students get to know you.
Each student walks into your classroom with a story; a story that you, as the educator, must know. Not only have your students entered with a need-to-know story, but so have you. Your students need to know this story! Our student’s stories play a great role in how they see the world and interact and connect with other. Our stories play a great role in shaping our teaching practices, connection with our students, and how we function in our classrooms daily. Sharing stories open us up to a world that we never knew existed and possibly one we could not even imagine.
When we build a relationship with students and get to know them and their stories, we connect with these students on a different level. When we enter their world we show them that we are willing to help them rewrite their story and finish their plot. When we share our personal stories with our students, they can begin to see us humans and are willing to connect with us on a different level; a level of vulnerability and trust that they need to open up their hearts and minds. Throughout my educational career as a student and teacher, I held a powerful story inside of me that no educator sought to know and I did not trust anyone to share. Because my teachers showed no interest in my story, I felt they had no interest in me. For this very reason, I rebelled in every way possible. In the same manner, I believe that when I see rebellion in my own students, I feel it is because I did not take every opportunity to get to know my students and I put up every wall possible to prevent them from getting to really know me. If my teachers would have sought to get to know me, they would have known that the hurt and baggage I carried daily prevented me from wanting to exist outside the world in my head. If we seek to get to know our students, we will discover that many of them may feel the same way. Once a teacher was able to breakdown the walls I had built up--by getting to know ME--I stepped out of the world in my head and entered into a world that had endless possibilities. The person that many people see today is only because a teacher took the time to get to know me and enter my reality. Just imagine how you can change the life of a student by sharing their reality with them and helping them rewrite the plot to their story.
Relationship building will be the primary focus of my 2017-2018 school year and I encourage this to be your focus as well. Not only will I focus to build a relationship with my students, but I will also allow them to build a relationship with me. I will be open and honest about my story--the good and the bad--and create a safe, vulnerable, and confidential environment for students to share their stories. Overall, I will constantly reflect on the advice of Dr. Lori Mathis and try to understand what it takes for a student to even walk through my classroom door.
Alexes M. Terry
Teaching can be mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting, especially if you are not properly taking care of your mind, body, and soul while outside of the classroom. Some may disagree with this contention, but it is impossible to provide the best for your students if you are not providing the best for yourself. A recent Huffington Post article questioned “Where Are All of the Teachers Going?” and if you ask me...CRAZY! The stress and demands of the education profession can literally drive a person insane but it does not have to be that way. Self-care is essential to a satisfying teaching career. It will not solve all of the the many other issues within the profession, but it will definitely help with with having a "water rolling off your back" duck mentality.
I’ve been in the education profession for seven years and like many new teachers, I was burnt out after year five. Emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually, I was drained and ready to walk away from it all. However, I honestly can not blame the point that I was at solely on teaching. Many of my issues stemmed from my lack of balance and prioritizing my teaching obligations over my personal needs. Because I was not taking care of myself, I could not fully meet the needs of my students. Yeah, students continued to learn and test scores remained high, however, my students were not really getting from me what they need. I was very distant, callous, and not a pleasant person to be around. When students entered my room, they had to do so with caution. One day I could be warm and friendly and the next, I was cold hearted. When they needed love, compassion, or someone to just show that they cared, I was not that person. Sadly, I can admit that some students failed my course because I failed them emotionally. This is something that I will always regret and vowed to change.
Observing veteran teachers can give you great insight on how to find balance between the personal and professional. You've seen them; those veterans who have been on your campus for years and in the profession longer than you have possibly been on this earth and they are still in love what they do. They would have it no other way. These are the veteran teachers who the students LOVE and they genuinely love their students. They are not those teachers who grudgingly come to work daily counting down to retirement, one outdated lesson plan at a time. But, these teachers are the ones who have seen numerous changes in the educational field but still make an effort to keep up with changing pedagogy, strategies, and best practices. They still take their craft and role in the classroom seriously. They know what it takes to make students successful and keep them coming back for what they have to offer. They have learned, from experience, that their students are only as happy as they are and similar to the saying “a happy wife makes a happy life,” a life-loving teacher helps to create a life-long learner.
So, what can we learn from these teachers? EVERYTHING! But, mainly how important it is for us as educators to remain whole even when things are crumbling around us. These teachers take time to travel during the summer, spend time with family and friends during breaks, and make a conscious effort to put their mind and body first. They are particular about their time and do not allow someone or something to take captive of their schedule if it was not already planned. They do what they love personally while not allowing their personal to conflict with their professional. They surround themselves with positive and uplifting people and instead of avoiding negativity, they allow their light to shine so bright that a dark cloud has no choice but to flee. These teachers know what they can and can not handle and while they still contribute to the campus culture, they have put behind them the days of taking on any and everything presented to them. Theses teachers put their families first and choose wisely when something career wise will put them in a conflicting situation. Most importantly, these teachers take time to do something, daily, that makes them happy and will give them the opportunity to step back. Whether it’s playing tennis with students after work, enjoying a conversation during a conference period, teaching a workout class after work, running marathons on the weekend, or knitting baby items during lunch, they are relaxed, happy, and overall, at peace. Activities as such allow them to decompress from the stress of the job and re-energizes them for next day. They don’t neglect their teaching obligations for these activities but they know that sometimes it is okay to leave that stack of ungraded papers at work or wait until the next day to respond to that email from that angry parent or student. After years of teaching they have come to understand that in order to be an asset to your students and your campus, you must value the most important asset you have...YOURSELF.
Before we start back to school, do something for YOU and make sure to ENJOY IT!
Alexes M. Terry
Have you ever had an amazing idea for a lesson, activity, or learning guide in your head but that’s where it remains? That happens to me literally every day. For some time now, I have been contemplating on launching a blog geared towards educators but EVERY TIME the idea crossed my mind, it seems like a paralyzing fear came over me that caused my brain to freeze and that great idea to remain put. It’s funny because on a daily basis, we push our students to dig deep down inside, into their inner being, to find that creativity that will help them produce something amazing. However, we struggle to cheer ourselves on to do the same. I am a firm believer that as educators, we must practice what we preach. We can not push others to a level of creativity if we are not willing to go there ourselves (Yes! There are levels to it :-)).
Our creativity is what keeps our students coming back for more and our boldness to continue to test the waters is what keeps them hooked. Knowing this, many educators hide behind the ideas of others and pre-made lessons because of what we feel we are unable to do. Yet, we can do it and we must remind ourselves of that everyday. That lesson you’ve been thinking about…YOU CAN DO IT! The activity you’ve been dreaming of…CREATE IT! That awesome strategy you want to implement with your own twist…GO FOR IT! That vision you have for your campus…PLAN AND IMPLEMENT! And that blog you want to start…WRITE IT (That one is personally for me). When a creative thought pops into our head, it is coming from a special and divine place. A place that only God can tap and he wants to use us to push it out into the earthly realm. However, in order to do so, we can not allow the fear of intimidation or inadequacy to overcome us. It is easy to browse popular teacher website and think to yourself, “there is no way I can produce something like this,” but you can and hopefully after reading this you will!
When tapping into our creative being, you must first be willing to free your mind. Secondly, you must go forth understanding that even Edison made crappy inventions (Yeah! He too stole the ideas of others but that’s not what we are focusing on) that forced him to go back to his lab and reflect on how he could improve it. This opportunity for self-reflection is needed. As well, it is what will allow us as educators to grow in our ability to create meaningful, authentic, engaging, and relevant learning experiences for our students. Thirdly, we must be willing to take risks and keep in mind that our students may not like or respond to what we create. If they don’t, this is not the time for you give up on yourself, but an opportunity for you to seek feedback from those that matter: your students. Yeah, I said it! Allow your students to provide you with constructive feedback. We do it to them all the time. Provide students with the opportunity to be honest (all feelings aside) about what they liked and disliked about something you have attempted to implement into your class. If done properly, this open and honest dialogue will give you exactly what you need to reflect accordingly with improvement in mind. Lastly, go for it! Get into that space where your creativity thrives the most and allow those ideas to flow. Get your cup of coffee, turn on that Gangsta Rap (or Praise and Worship) and just go for it! What you have the God-given ability to create can be just as good as those amazing lessons and resources on TPT (Teachers Pay Teachers), or those PLNs (Professional Learning Networks) that you troll on Facebook, but you have to be willing to just go for it. When you hit that road block and come to that point of hesitation, remember that when you create something that is awesome, your students benefit (and so can the students of teachers across the world).
We are just weeks away from the start of school and if you are anything like myself, you have started planning mentally or physically. While it is easier to just pull out those lesson plans from last year and stick to what you have done before, never imprison your creativity. Always challenge yourself to create something new. It’ll keep you fresh on your feet and in love with what you do. As teachers and educators, we have many talents and superpowers. Do not underestimate your ability to CREATE! Free your mind and the rest will follow.
Alexes M. Terry
Live, Love, & Laugh has become a popular phrase of the 21st Century. You can’t take one trip through the home decor section without seeing this phrase plastered on a coffee mug, pillow, or even wall decal. To many, it has become just another cliche in the English lexicon but to others, these three little words have become principles to live by daily. I must admit that at one point in life, this very phrase made up my first Twitter handle because I wanted people to know me as a person who was free and, within this freedom, found pleasure in living boldly, loving others, and laughing at things that went right and those that went terribly wrong.
The beginning of August, for teachers across America, mark the start of the back to school season. If you are not already back to school, you are dreadfully counting down those days to the week of in-service. Many teachers will begin not only planning out their school year, but also reflecting on the past school year and how they can use those ups and downs to not only create a better year for themselves but also for their students.
As you reflect on last year and plan for a successful new year, I want you to ponder on the phrase: Live, Love, and Laugh. Allow these words to connect with you personally and consider how these words can transform the climate and culture of your classroom. Allow these words to become your classroom mantra and possibly your classroom non-negotiables. These three words hold power and not only can they transform the environment of your classroom, they also hold the power to transform you as the educator and, most importantly, your students.
When I think back to the teachers and educators who have made a tremendous impact on my life--Mrs. Miles, Ms. Hyde, and Mr. Conard, I think about the life, love, and laughter myself, and other students, experienced in their classrooms. As a broken and distraught youth, it was these experiences that brought me back for more and what began the transformation stage of my life. These teachers were not afraid to LIVE, meaning they let their guards down, as educators, and allow their students to see and understand that they were human beings. They showed us their imperfections and often times shared their stories with us to let us know that we were not alone in those sometimes dark spaces. They LOVED us passionately and devoted countless hours to showing us that we mattered when our surrounding environments did not make us feel that way. They treated us like their own children and when they saw a need, they sought to fill it even if that meant extra time on the clock or money from their own pockets. They showed us it was okay to make a mistake and loved us regardless of our actions. And lastly, they made us LAUGH and was not afraid to laugh with us. They were not afraid to share those embarrassing moments, if they knew it would cheer us up, and made every effort to show us that it was okay to laugh at ourselves and our imperfections. They built our confidence up and taught us that it was okay to live boldly and freely. This boldness and freedom is something that we should seek to pass on to our students, during this school year, and watch how it transforms their lives and our lives at the same time.
As you sit and begin to plan your successful school year, challenge yourself to open up and share your testimony of life. Don’t be afraid to let your guard down and passionately love on your students. Finally, keep in mind that it is okay to smile before Christmas. Matter of fact, when you or your students make a mistake, laugh at it and do so loudly. It will be okay! Live, love, and laugh. Allow yourself to be free. Most importantly, allow these three words to transform your classroom and transform lives.
Alexes M. Terry