It’s funny how Wreck This Journal often reflects whatever is going on in my life. I don’t write much about my day job as a teacher, mainly because I like to keep my writing life separate from my professional life. Sometimes, however, it can’t be helped when inspiration and the daily grind combine.
I’ve always been a bit of an outsider among my colleagues because I don’t fit the mold of a typical teacher. My methods are a little outside the box, I have a quirky personality, and my appearance often gets me mistaken for a student instead of a teacher. Say what they may, my odd approach works as my students can’t wait to come to my class every day and for some they never liked history until they walked through my classroom door. Learning should be a disciplined process, but it should also be creative and fun. The world needs people who can think for themselves and find solutions to problems and its my job to help students become those independent thinkers. We owe it to our future.
As the economy worsens and public education continues to take financial hits, districts are scrambling to snag federal funding which is often based significantly on standardized test scores. I’ve been teaching for eleven years and with each year I’ve watched my district become more and more obsessed with statistics and data and that unfortunately takes the focus off individualized learning and performance. Education is increasingly veering from diversified learning to cookie cutter intelligence that pretty much eliminates all forms of creative thought and problem solving. To say this concerns me is an understatement. My philosophy of teaching revolves around allowing students to individually process information and find creative ways to use that information. Slowly, but surely, I’m finding myself further and further outside the boundaries of the system.
Recently, my school district has taken to implementing a new dress code for teachers. I’m not opposed to a dress code, but the timing of it is what irks me. We are in the middle of a financial crisis and clothing is where they’ve chosen to place their focus. In my school alone, there are leaking ceilings, mouse/roach infested classrooms (mine is one of them), a shortage of desks, 40 kids in a class, and outdated laptops (mine is held together with tape). I’m not usually one to complain, but I think the district has lost sight of what’s important here. I’m all for professionalism in the workplace, but at the moment I don’t feel much like a professional in surroundings that are falling apart.
From a personal standpoint, I dress rather casually because that’s who I am. I’m not a slob by any means, but I’m also not a rayon blouse, heels wearing kind of girl. One of the most important things I teach my students, (aside from curriculum), is the importance of being yourself. When I started teaching, I wore nice slacks, dress shoes, etc., but my students saw right through the fine attire. It wasn’t me and in effect they couldn’t trust someone who was lying to them. By my third year, I started wearing jeans and my signature Converse sneakers. For the first time, my clothes matched the atmosphere I created in my classroom. I wasn’t lying anymore and my students responded as such. Not only were they learning history, but they were learning by my example what it means to “own” who you are.
Sometimes life is about jumping outside those lines. My Wreck This Journal reminded me of that with a page that dared me color outside the lines in a very visual and vindicating way.
Five years ago, I probably would have easily given into the “back to basics” movement that is sweeping public education, but now I’m sticking to my guns more than ever. What I do in the classroom works and I stand by it 100%. I’m holding steady and waiting for the “reforms” to take place, but I know I’m in for a fight. And you know what? I’m ready. I’m not afraid to color outside the lines.
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