Sharing, What’s More Important Than Technology

It seems as if in some schools there has long been a culture where "sharing successes" is frowned upon. Where young energetic teachers (like I once was) are told "You'll slow down" or with a sly smile "You will learn that no one cares if you work that hard..." I remember distinctly sharing a successful lesson in my elementary classroom with a couple of teachers in my school during the lull prior to a faculty meeting... I wanted someone to hear about how Jose had BEGGED to read and how; when he got stuck JuWon had helped him. I wanted someone to say, "THAT was a great idea"... instead I heard "oh, THAT one, he will be in a gang by the time he is 12, why are you wasting your time?" I remember going home and crying...

Crying for the child they had already written off at age 8.
Crying for the lack of support for me and my efforts to reach students who were already unmotivated in second grade
Crying for a teacher who was not even motivated to try to make a difference with every child
Crying for the death of my optimism for teaching as a profession
The school was a depressing one, deep in an inner city crawling with drug sales, prostitutes and bugs. It was in a neighborhood that was breeding angry teens with little hope and heavy hearts. It was old, broken, in need of repair. Teachers at this school arrived in time to get a parking space, left when the bell rang, and seemed to keep their classroom doors closed as if to keep out ideas and innovation. Classrooms were linoleum floors, institutional green walls and green chalkboards with a few much-carved wooden chairs and desks and a cloakroom most teachers used to discipline students. Technologies? Well, we had ONE double outlet plug over the sink in the corner. We had a hand crank pencil sharpener and eventually we had a computer.

I remember that night, the night I went home and cried for Jose, I remember it clearly. It was a turning point in my life. I remember wondering if I should leave teaching, if I had chosen poorly.  I remember struggling to imagine doing this work with these people for the rest of my life. I felt alone. I thought that I was the only teacher who cared.

I didn’t leave. I couldn’t. Teaching had chosen me, not the other way around. It was my calling. I could not quit it anymore than I could quit breathing.

So, that night with tears in my eyes, I graded papers, planned lessons, developed strategies and went back the next day determined that I would be the one who would make a difference. I realized I had 9-months with these students to make a difference in their lives. I could teach them hope, teamwork, honesty and reading, writing and arithmetic.  I could show them I cared, even if the rest of the world didn’t. Little did I know that those 9 months would change me more than anyone else.

It was in this particularly difficult year, my third year of teaching, that I developed my own skills as a teacher. I learned to improvise, adapt, listen to my learners, and to model “grace under fire” when some lessons flopped miserably. I learned to embrace each learner for the gifts they brought to our class and I helped them to honor what they carried inside themselves. I know the lessons of that year are still a part of my core beliefs and values. It wasn’t about technology (I will share that story in another post), it was about hearts, and trust, and paying attention to all the truly important things... I wonder what happened to them, the class that taught me far more than any other class.