Monday, February 13, 2012

The Solution to Burnout Is a Better Story (Part Two)

by John T. Spencer

Last year, I allowed my story to slip into the Superman Narrative. My students were scoring well. The Clipboard Crew visited often. I wrote blog posts about what I was doing; beginning to believe I had more answers than questions. I tried to hide the imperfections. I yelled at kids a few times last year. I failed miserably at teaching science. I had to apologize at least once a day for something.

I took a job as a teacher-coach, believing that I had a duty to share my expertise. It was arrogant, I know. However, it was more about fear than anything else. I wasn't sure that I could repeat what happened last year. I had slipped into the wrong story.

Outward, I look "successful" in this current position. But inside, I'm dying to be teaching full-time. I left the classroom when I still loved being a teacher and now, as I teach during part of the day, I get a taste of what I missed everyday.

So, as I think about my return to the classroom full-time next year, I want to go back to the story that I had believed before:

  • Character: I want to be faithful, courageous and wise. But more than anything, I wanted to be someone who loves people well. If my students are engaged mentally and feel safe, I'm off to a great start.
  • Antagonist: The real antagonist was the system of standardization and the lie of perfectionism. Failure isn't the enemy. It's a chance to grow. Low test scores won't kill me. Really. 
  • Plot: It doesn't have to look exciting. My actions might look impressive (a mural or a documentary) but often humble (a debate, a project, an in-depth discussion) and that’s okay. It's not about the credit, the glory or the sense of superiority I feel when I am noticed. 
  • Setting: The real setting has to be my classroom. It isn’t about what the world sees or how I am noticed within the entire school. It's not about the Twitterverse or the Blogosphere or any other catchy name we have for the echo chamber of what's working. In my classroom, I'm broken and vulnerable . . . and yet, amazing things happen. 
  • Conflict: The true conflict is mostly internal: Will I be faithful? Will I remain true to my convictions? Will I be bold enough to fight against the standardized system? Will I get suckered into the wrong story?
  • Theme: It’s about providing authentic learning for all students. It's always been about thinking better about life. Period. If I can remember that theme, I'm better off for it.
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John T. Spencer is a teacher in Phoenix, AZ who blogs at Education Rethink. He recently finished Pencil Me In, an allegory for educational technology and A Sustainable Starta book for new teachers. He also wrote the reform-minded memoirs Teaching Unmasked: A Humble Alternative to Waiting For a Superhero and Sages and LunaticsHe has written two young adult novels Drawn Into Danger and A Wall for ZombiesYou can connect with him on Twitter @johntspencer

1 comment:

  1. This is perhaps one of those blogs you wonder if anyone will ever comment on eh? My alter ego (Bulletman) IS a superhero so you had me intrigued from the start, even more so as I also now work in education and am very passionate about helping young people be more creative and successful. So I guess we may have some things in common and your blog resonated with me. (I too feel burnt out from slowing down.) And I do like your notion of slipping into the WRONG story here. (I feel a bit like that too). Doing the wrong job, not the one I was meant to do requires grit, determination and belief to achieve and change things. All I will add to this is the power of visualisation - something you know - and have to do (put it into action) in order to be successful in your goal. GO for it!! Make it happen. Make it feel real and then do things one step at a time...


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