About 2 weeks ago, I read a blog by a fellow teacher named Adam Powley. Adam is a phenomenal teacher who also uses the principles of gamification in his classroom. He is full of knowledge and great ideas. His blog (www.classroompowerups.com) is a fantastic resource for teachers and via Twitter (@MrPowley) he is always quick to respond and help out. His latest blog, found here: (https://classroompowerups.com/2019/01/15/emotional-struggles-some-personal-sharing/) though really resonated with me. Someone as good as him was feeling the weight of teaching – really?! I needed to show my support to him and all my fellow teachers. I’m kind of going to go all over the place, but here I go …
Since the explosion of Instagram teacher pages and perfect classroom Pinterest Boards, there is a growing feeling that our own classrooms are not, or never will be, up to snuff. The more we see these “exemplary” rooms and pristine setups, we begin to question our own “imperfect” classrooms. Please, if you haven’t heard it before, your “imperfect” classroom is perfect for your students. Your efforts are exactly what your students need. Your ripped up borders, dirty countertops, teacher desk with papers to the ceiling and handmade, semi-functional storage systems are completely fine. Why? In my opinion, because it is real. It is a real reflection of what teaching really looks like. A messy, crazy and demanding profession.
To be clear, I don’t believe teachers build their Instagram pages or Facebook groups to be judgmental or boastful. They are proud of what they do, much like I am, and want to show it off. They are hoping to inspire others. The problem is that so many of these pages are beginning to pop up, that they are inadvertently creating a sense competition while fueling a sense of inadequacy in many teachers. Thoughts of, “well my class will never look like that!” or “I don’t have that kind of time!” are becoming more and more frequent amongst the profession. While I love competition and believe it has a significant role in education, there is something this sort of competition is missing. The other side of the coin if you will. Back to that momentarily.
Now, as someone who does what I do, there are probably many who will cry foul to what I just said. “Look at your classroom! Look at your blogs and videos! What a hypocrite!”. First off, you are totally entitled to believe this but I’m hoping this next little bit will help sway your opinion as this is entirely what I am not out to do.
First off, my issue with education is about the system, not the teacher. It is a system that drives fear into teachers if they step out of the norm and try something different. “What about your assessment?” “How will they learn this way?” or “This is ridiculous; you’re going to screw up the kids!” The belief that an archaic system should remain the same is my issue. Your class setup? Make it whatever you want it to be!
When I designed my gamified classroom, I wanted to design it with cost and practicality in mind. I built it with literal garbage. I went into dumpsters, garage sales or construction sites and spent 0$ setting up the classroom. It is messy as hell on most days and that’s OK! The extras like lighting and voice controlled stuff, all discount purchases or gifts. These are not necessary or required at all. It is the icing on a cake that is 100% optional. People are still going to eat cake, iced or not. ;)
Third, being a teacher means you are able to juggle a huge variety of things simultaneously. Our attention is constantly being sought out one way or another. With our focus on student needs, the room is going to get messy. That’s fine! You do not need to have a flawless space to promote learning.
I think a lot of us, teachers and non-teachers alike, forget that we (teachers) are also human as well. We have our own lives, our own families and our own needs, problems and issues. I think when you get into teaching, you have an inherent drive to want to help and take care of people and in doing so, we forget about ourselves. Here is brilliant piece I read to students during the 1st week of school to remind them I’m also human too (https://affectiveliving.com/2014/03/08/what-students-really-need-to-hear/). It extends to parents as well.
Through your own sacrifices, juggling of your own life and late nights of prepping, planning and marking, your classroom will inevitably fall apart. Your lessons will sometimes flop and your assignments won’t come together in the picturesque social media montage as you had hoped. It will make you feel sad, frustrated or disappointed. It won’t look like the stuff you see online on social media and that’s OK! If every class was the same, the uniqueness of you wouldn’t shine through!
We live in an age where we want our perfect selves to be all that is seen. I’m guilty of this as well. I do not share enough of my struggles as a teacher. I want everyone to think I’m awesome and I’m perfect but let me tell you I struggle, especially these past 2 years. I have had some difficult classes, even more difficult students and faced a multitude of personal health problem. I’ve also been battling depression and anxiety for about 5 years now. It isn’t an easy balance but I make it work. I wish more people saw that side of me instead of the social media persona that I sometimes, regrettably, add to.
Again, while I know people who begin these pages are not out to bring about negativity or worry, the sad reality is that some are feeling it. Each day that “some” grows to include more and more. Let’s not forget what got us into teaching – the pay and the fame! Haha! Sorry I couldn’t resist! We got into the profession to help out others and show them the beauty of learning. When you talk about beauty, remember it is always in the eye of the beholder.
If you need a reminder of this, just remember any commercial for a fast food hamburger. They sure as hell never look like the commercial when you get it but you eat it just the same!
So, if you had the patience to read through all my ramblings, please remember these 4 takeaways …
- Whatever you are for your students … it is enough; you will always be enough.
- Messes, dirty classrooms and failed lessons are all a part of teaching.
- You are not just a teacher but also a human and that is OK!
- You are not alone in any potential struggle you may have.
If no one has told you this before, I appreciate you. Teacher to teacher, you are doing something amazing. You are taking the minds of tomorrow and shaping them today. Whatever you prep, is enough. Whatever your classroom looks like, it is beautiful. Whatever you feel, it is OK.
Hope this took even the smallest weight of your shoulders!
Stay awesome, you got this!
AKA: Master Heebs