For those of you who are first year teachers, I know that you will understand my lack of a posting on this site for what has been an embarrassingly long time. In my last real communication here, I shared my thoughts about a new job that I might have the opportunity to try – and I got it! It has been an incredible year of learning for me, and I’ve loved every minute of my teaching. But, WOW! Was this an exhausting year!
Now that my term has come to an end, I’ve been doing a lot of reflection on my experience. In many ways, there were not any massive surprises that I faced this year – I’ve always worked closely with teachers and I’ve heard about the challenges and rewards that come with this position. But there is always a deeper level of understanding that comes from living something, and not just understanding it through someone else’s experience.
One of the things I’ve thought a lot about was power. Power is the one need that we seem to have the most uncomfortable relationship with. While choice theory identifies it as one of the basic human needs that we all have, its also one that many times people don’t like to admit they desire because it so often has been used to oppress and harm others. But power is a big part of what makes teaching so amazing – you have the power to truly change lives. I will always treasure those “Aha!” moments that I got to witness with my students this year where some new learning rocked their world. I can hardly think of anything so rewarding as knowing that you have played some small role in changing the future because of the ideas you shared with a student.
But the responsibility that comes with that is something that I hadn’t grasped at such a core level before. Standing before my students, I not only had the power to do good things, I also had the power to embarrass, minimize someone’s experience, destroy trust, diminish motivation or even crush someone’s dreams. And while I would never intentionally do any of those things, I also know that this can happen without awareness.
I attended a conference today where we were discussing the concept of creating “safe spaces” in schools where everyone feels valued and respected. This is something I really wanted to achieve in my classroom. But many of the participants shared that this idea is a fallacy – that there are always going to be times where people are afraid to speak because of the reactions that they’ve experienced before when trying to have their voices heard.
This is the messy world in which we live. Those of us who have power are often blissfully unaware of the experience of those who do not possess it. I am certain that I have hurt my students this year – that I have been dismissive towards a student’s ideas or did not step in to support a student who was being silenced by others. It is a scary thing to recognize that I have so much power, and that in spite of my desire to create safety in my classroom, I still let people down.
I appreciated the words of one of the participants today who said that for them it is not about people “getting it”. Every person has a complex story, and the best position to take is to recognize that you don’t “get it”. The best we can do it to be open to trying to understand others’ experiences, and to recognize that sometimes we are going to screw up. And when we screw up, we can say sorry and do better next time.
I only hope that my students learned half as much this year as I have learned from them!