I have an axiom that I try to repeat every day before school starts.
On my best days I focus on the kids. On my good days I focus on the content. On my bad days I focus on myself.
I know that sounds obvious. “Isn’t a teacher supposed to focus on kids!?” Yes. But other things do get in the way. The pressure to teach the curriculum and prepare for standardized testing can be intense. I’ve spent plenty of days ramming knowledge about the Boston Tea Party into my student’s heads as if the fate of humanity depended on it. Those days aren’t bad, but I don’t always go home feeling like I’ve made a difference.
I’m not arguing that content doesn’t matter. It matters. Social studies education is more important than ever. I’ve always argued that our content is the most crucial of any of the disciplines. The recent flood of fake news and the discussion of a “post-truth” world underscores my point. Social studies education gives students the tools to engage in a civil society.
In the same way, we are not simply knowledge-dispensing robots sent to fill our students’ heads with facts and skills. If that were the case, the internet would soon make us obsolete. Instead, we interact daily with dozens of unique human beings, with unique wants and needs, and unique personal stories, on a daily basis.
- We get the chance to stand up for those children who are marginalized.
- To inspire those children who are unaware of their potential.
- To encourage someone who is down.
- To be a role model for those that don’t have one at home.
- To provide a safe space for those who may have no where else to go.
All of that falls outside our curriculum. Don’t lose the forest the trees. We aren’t in the building to teach content. We are there to teach content to students.
Sadly, some days I don’t even focus on content. Teachers have a tough job. We deal with ever increasing class sizes, standardized testing, and ever changing educational mandates. The best laid lesson plans can go awry. Students won’t turn in homework, won’t care, or worse. On top of that we have our own personal lives that can bleed into our work no matter how hard we try to keep them separate.
I’ve spent entire days frustrated at students, or coworkers, or distracted thinking about something else totally unrelated to school. Those days I go home lamenting lost opportunity.
But when I invest time and energy on building relationships with my students, those are the days I am so glad to be a teacher. Every day holds tremendous potential to change a life for good. Sometimes all it takes is a kind word or gesture.
- A high five.
- A friendly greeting.
- A sincere compliment.
- A sympathetic ear.
- A simple conversation, asking them about their life.
I’m imperfect. I do and will continue to have bad days. But I am resolved to try my hardest every day to remember what really matters. It’s not the content. It’s not myself. It’s the kids.