Searching for a Purpose

I have been very unhappy with myself lately. While Googling ideas on ways to discuss leadership I came across an entry written by Morgan Guyton.  What he is describing is that vulnerability and leadership can go hand in hand. In a way, leadership can come from the weak and meek. As I read through more of his posts I realized that for the past two years I have been missing the solidarity that I used to have with my students on a regular basis. Every now and then I get a sense that solidarity has come back, but too often it feels like we are separate, like I am living and working in an “us”  and “them” kind of environment.

When I started blogging again I stated that it would be for my own benefit. The whole purpose was to be about reflection. And if OTES doesn’t think that writing about my teaching at 1:27 AM on April 13 doesn’t count as reflection, I don’t know what does.  As I sit here and reflect, I think I lost my sense of purpose. I feel like I have become a teacher I really never wanted to be. I know what I am doing (teaching math), I know how I do that (I use whiteboarding, but there are many different methods), but I feel like I have lost my reason for why. I teach math, the concepts and procedures, but at the end of the day it just feels so empty and shallow.

I feel that as teachers, we continually hear and use rhetoric about the actions we take in school are “in the best interest” of the students. But what always bothered me was that rarely were the students consulted about their “best interest.” It always felt like that “best interest” was just an empty justification thrown around by teachers, administrators, and parents. I am not trying to portray the people behind Common Core, or any other educational fad as self-serving, maniacal, ego-maniacs, but no matter how sincere the belief behind “best interest,” it really isn’t. Our students are unique in so many ways and when they get aggregatized to the extent of most “best interest” initiatives, they lose their uniqueness, leaving many involved on the front lines of education feeling jaded. When our new initiatives don’t work, we then blame the students.

That’s where I am right now.  A couple of years ago I felt much more accomplished as a teacher. It’s not that my methods have drastically changed, they haven’t. Grades and test scores are pretty similar. But now when I go home at the end of the day I don’t feel like I have accomplished anything. Right now I don’t know why I am here. I know I teach math, but why? Right now, I feel like I am an employee at a prison. Right now, I feel like I have otherized my students. Right now, I feel like I have made them a “them.” As long as I am not “them” I am free to blame “them” for the shortcomings of the classroom.

Right now I’ve made my classroom about my methods, my philosophies, and my math. When I started the process of changing my methods and philosophies a couple of years ago, it wasn’t because they were special, but it was because I decided to make a couple of students my priority. This revelation occurred because for the first time I made myself vulnerable to my students. I made myself emotionally vulnerable to my students. I stopped being the arrogant, pompous, self-righteous, sanctimonious, authority teacher I was and confessed that all I really am was a lost asshole of a human being.

When I admitted that to my class, albeit a class of two, I was met with grace, sympathy, and understanding. If the two guys in class had every opportunity to crush my spirit and destroy it, but instead met me with a feeling of solidarity. I slowly began morphing my teaching to improve the learning in my class and over the course of two and a half years. I would be the first to admit that there are aspects of my class that are entirely unconventional. My purpose had shifted from teaching math to being more student focused. I wanted to become the teacher that inspires students to free themselves of the shackles of intellectual servitude that is often experienced in school. I know I can complete this purpose, I have in the past. (Beyond my intuition, I keep a thank you that a student wrote me a couple of years ago. I read it when I need an emotional lift after a rough day.)

I know I can accomplish my goal, but I think that my priorities were misplaced. Changing my methods didn’t change my outcomes, it was changing my mindset. When I made myself vulnerable I felt a solidarity with my students that I think I have lost. I have become an asshole again. My teaching isn’t really about them, it’s about me. I need to reclaim that solidarity because when there is genuine solidarity in a classroom it can be like a sanctuary of grace during a hectic day.

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