Sunday, February 22, 2015

What breaks your heart as an educator?

If you are truly passionate about your profession, there are undoubtedly things that break your heart as an educator. I'm not referring to your frustrations with long hours, low pay, or unnecessary paperwork or these types of challenges. These things are important, and can really make it tough to stay positive, but these aren't the things that are truly heartbreaking. The things that really break my heart have a purpose beyond self-interest.

Most educators entered the profession because they wanted to make a difference for students. They were filled with hope and passion and the belief that they could change something for the kids they taught. Even if these young educators were idealistic as they entered the classroom, I cannot help but admire this youthful zeal.

As the years wear on, it's easy to become a little jaded and forget some of the reasons we took this path. The constant external pressures coupled with the complex social problems we encounter can easily overwhelm us and cause us to retreat to simply implementing lessons. But when we lose our way on the larger mission, we miss great opportunities for change.

So I've been thinking about what truly breaks my heart. What are the injustices in my school or community that I can impact? I challenge you to reflect on that question and then consider what you can do to change the way things are. You can be a difference maker.

Are any of these realities heartbreaking for you?

1. Many students don't have someone at home who cares about them and cares about learning. Maybe you can be the mentor this student needs. Even if they aren't loved at home, maybe you can show them love at school.

2. Students who don't enjoy learning. It's a shame how many students have lost the desire to learn. Some of this is related to #1, but how can you create a classroom that rekindles the curiosity and interest that motivates students to want to learn?

3. Students are living in poverty with basic needs unmet. Teachers are often heroes for these students. Helping them find resources. Making sure they get something to eat. How can you be a champion for an impoverished student?

4. Too many students feel like they are failures at doing school. Instead of reinforcing the failure messages these students often receive, maybe you can be the person who discovers and celebrates their strengths.

5. Our system is obsessed with high-stakes standardized testing. Can you make your class more about learning and less about testing? I realize the performance pressures are enormous on teachers, but if the testing culture breaks your heart, what are you doing about it?

These are just a few examples of things I believe are heartbreaking for teachers. There are many, many more. Bullying, discrimination, lack of resources or opportunities are a few other biggies. But I believe we can make a difference. If each person recognizes what breaks his or her heart, and then works to bring greater justice and opportunity, that can start a chain reaction.

Most of the examples I listed before can be addressed, at least in part, right in the classroom. But I would also challenge educators to think beyond the classroom. What can I do to make our school a better place? How can I influence and cause change even beyond my school?

Whatever it is that breaks your heart, don't stop feeling passionate about it. Make it part of your work as an educator. Don't shoulder too much and forget to take care of yourself or the people closest to you. But keep a larger mission in mind. The work we do that arises from our soul is what helps us feel the sense of purpose and the desire to meet the challenges ahead of us.

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