Monday, October 26, 2015

"I like to challenge myself. I like to learn - so I like to try new things and try to keep growing." David Schwimmer

If you are a member of Facebook, you probably know that there are many groups who are
all about preserving the past- in pictures, documents, stories, etc.  I like that.  I enjoy both the notion and the action of posting and looking at pictures from "the old days" of my childhood; days when I never knew my parents would grow old and die, and when I never suspected those favorite landmarks and hangouts of my youth would cease to exist. Those days seem so sweet and close at hand when I gaze at those pictures, and the colors and smells and feelings of my childhood can overtake me in a matter of moments, transporting me back in time 50-60 years in a matter of a few seconds..

However, as much as I enjoy reminiscing, I also enjoy "new" things. Take a look around you, and you will find that people are truly creatures of habit.  Teachers sit in the same seat in the faculty room every day. Parishioners sit in the same pew every Sunday.  Diners order their  favorite platter for dinner on Saturday night.  Cocktail drinkers order the same libations.  Drivers park their cars in the same spot, and take the same routes. Such constant and consistent routines do not allow for much excitement in our adult lives.

One of the great attributes of young people is their willingness to take a chance on doing something new.  Although students like routines for their bell-to-bell lives, they are always so willing to try something current; to listen to an alternative group; to ride on the fastest roller coaster; and to taste the newest flavor milkshake.  Part of the reason I liked teaching high school for 37 years was that the adventurous attitudes of the students and their outlook on "new" things kept me young as well!  I remember when I bought the first Apple IPhone, and my students were the ones who taught me how to use it!  Although I had to retire when my husband was dying from cancer, I try to practice the lesson I learned from my students all those years, so I strive to keep that attitude of trying new things in life. Life is so much more exciting when doing something different from the norm. 

I think as teachers, sometimes we get just a little bit too comfortable in and with the familiar, and we forget that it is important to learn and try new things.  I know from my experience that students appreciate an adventurous spirit in their teachers.  I am thinking of an incident that happened many years ago, when desktop computers were out, but were not in every classroom. I purchased my own Apple MacIntosh computer to have in my classroom, because I saw the wave of the future, and it looked to me like schoolrooms  in the near future would include a desktop for every teacher.  I wanted to learn about computers at my own pace instead of having to learn "everything you ever wanted to know about computers, but were afraid to ask" in one or two after school sessions from the school district.  So, I bought my own and brought it to school.

One morning, our school had an incident which called for a "lock down," and my third period 10th grade Essential English II class was in my classroom more than 90 minutes longer than the regular class period.  They were a small, cordial group, but easily bored.  They were chatting amongst themselves about email (which was REALLY new at the time- the school district did not even have email yet!), and  the kids asked me for my personal email address. I had to confess that I did not have one, because I did not know how to create one for myself!  They suggested that they help me to create an email, since it was obvious that I was clueless on how to even begin.  We moved my desk out of the way, and all 15 of those kids placed their chairs in semi-circles around the computer.  They directed me to go to the Yahoo page on Internet Explorer, and I navigated step by step as they told me what to type. We talked as a group about what kind of email handle I should have.  They did not like the idea of using my name, as that was "too boring." The students said I should choose a name that would show "who you are," and the essence of who they thought I was went something like this: "You like golf, and you like bunnies, and you like teaching, so it should be something like that."  We tried lots of combinations:  golf bunny, bunny golfer, 7bunnies, golfteachbunny, bunnycoach, and a host of others.  Every moniker suggested was already TAKEN by another yahoo user!  Finally, a student shouted, "I know!  Try bunnyteacher!!"  

Bunnyteacher worked, and was met by thunderous classroom applause!  And that, my readers, is the story of how I attained my first email address, Just moments after that applause ended, an announcement came on the P A saying that the lockdown was lifted, and that students were dismissed to their next class.  We looked at each other, sad that our group project was finished, but glad for the fun-shared time together; time in which the students were teaching ME. I gave each one a big "Thank you!" before they scooted out the door.

The next day, when I expressed my appreciation for each one of their emails (which they had sent the day before to my new address), I further explained  that they were so patient and so helpful and such good teachers.  The answer I received was from the heart: "We wanted to help you. We like it when you want to learn something new from us. Some of the other teachers don't care about learning computer stuff, but you do.  We like that."  

That incident, from all those years ago, has stayed with me.  I think that part of the vitality of being a teacher has got to be a willingness to leave the familiar - lesson plans, technology, classroom desk arrangement, and perhaps, even teaching methods - and try something new, exciting, different, and maybe even better.  Of course, that means leaving the comfort zone.  As teachers, we ask our students to learn something new almost every day, and in my opinion, it would be terrific for teachers to share their ideas for something new with their students.  I practiced doing just that all the years that I taught, and I would also ask students for honest feedback on new lessons or projects we shared and completed. Lots of times, students commented that it was fun to learn in a classroom in which the teacher was willing to be creative in her approach to teaching.

So, how can YOU make your classroom or lessons or subject better through creativity and extending yourself and your ideas?  Get together with some colleagues, and share ideas that have worked. Share ideas that have NOT worked, and discuss why they did not work. Expand on those ideas, and discuss the implementation and involvement of every learner, maybe even as a multi-classroom project.  As teachers have said for years, ":Put on your thinking cap", and generate something NEW and exciting!  Working collaboratively and creating stimulating lessons is a great way to prevent teacher burnout, doing the same 'BLAH, BLAH, BLAH" lessons every year.  Of course, building a new repertoire of lessons takes time and effort, but you effort will exhilarate both you and your students.  Please  . . . give it a try.  

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