I used to love teaching. I loved creating new lessons and improving on old ones. Labs were fun. Class was fun. I was excited to work with my 8th graders on special projects like BeadforLife where we sold jewelry made from recycled paper by impoverished Ugandan women. I was excited when we collected snacks, books, toiletries, and other items and sent them to Soldiers’ Angels who sent them to American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. I loved going with them for a few day to Washington D.C. and other trips. I enjoyed going to their football games on a Saturday morning. I loved that the kids did well on their state assessment. I was nominated for several awards and even won a few. Then, about three years ago, things began to change. For a while, I couldn’t put my finger on what was changing, but it soon became clear that it was their attitude toward learning and toward school in general that was taking a hit. Around the same time I began hearing comments from other teachers about the same problem. Thinking back I see that that is when my love for teaching began to die. Over the last couple of years the negative comments from teachers increased significantly as did the students’ negative attitudes. In late August of last year, after putting it off for years, I finally began to work on a masters degree. I wanted, I needed to get out of the classroom. I chose educational technology. Among other things, my classes involve discussions on how the brains of digital natives are wired differently because they have grown up with a lot of technology. As a result, they learn differently. I have researched peer-reviewed articles that talk about research educators and schools all over the world are doing on the subject and on how to integrate technology into the classroom. I have also read many articles written about how our education system is archaic, obsolete. Somewhere along the line I came to a startling realization; I am part of the problem.
I have spent this entire school year depressed, nearly hating my job. Though I still create new lessons and improve old ones, I feel like I’m just going through the motions. For the first time in years, I have not worked on any special projects like BeadforLife. I haven’t planned any end-of-year activities for my 8th graders. I haven’t gone to any of their games. My rationale has been that since they don’t seem to care about anything, they don’t deserve it. Honestly, I’ve just been feeling sorry for myself. A few weeks ago, I started a new technology integration class. The teacher is a man who has successfully integrated technology into his middle school, social studies classroom. At first, I didn’t know what to make of him. He is way too happy and excited about teaching. His students are way too happy and excited about learning. Where is all the negativity I know and love? Thanks to Paul Bogush, though reluctantly, I have begun to embrace technology more. I’m now on Twitter, I write a blog, and I’m starting to think ahead at how I can integrate more technology into my lessons.
As if by divine intervention, the stars have aligned to make this process happen. My 8th grade students have taken their state assessment and I have nothing but time and flexibility to teach the last couple of units I have left for the year. For my unit on natural disasters I was going to have the kids create individual presentations on either Prezi or Haiku Deck, but the kids still didn’t seem too excited. Then, after a meeting at work we were sent the link to a blog post about what keeps students motivated to learn. In short, students are motivated by project based learning that is interest-based, relevant and hands-on. But they also need to know that teachers care about them, that they can learn from failure, and they need feedback from teachers and peers. I though about my project once again, and decided that if my students were going to be excited about their learning, they were going to have to make the project their own; I let them choose. Much to my surprise, they were more excited about this project than I’ve ever seen them before. They chose to work in small groups with laptops and chose the members of each group. They chose for each group to present about a different natural disaster and came up with a list and a fair way to decide which disaster each group would study. They chose the different types of presentation tools they could use and even asked if they could make old fashioned books or posters for those who are afraid to use the web tools.
I don’t know how well this project will work out, but for the first time in a long time, I don’t feel like just going through the motions. I’m optimistic about the future. Perhaps I will feel effective once again. I look forward to the day when I feel worthy of being called exemplary.