Balancing choreography and calling in the classroom

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Lee Ann Atherton
Lee Ann Atherton

By Lee Ann Atherton
leaann.atherton@mccracken.kyschools.us

One Sunday night recently, I did something ridiculous for any self-respecting teacher. I went to a concert three hours away – on a school night. The concert got me thinking about our profession.

I was somewhat of a groupie even before the artist became famous, traveling to see him at venues so small that spectators could sit at his feet while he strummed his guitar. And then fame and money began to transform his concerts. That Sunday night there were lights of every hue, dancing that couldn’t have been his idea, backup singers and other bells and whistles. Something – an authenticity of sorts – seemed to be missing. The purity of an artist doing what he was clearly so gifted and called to do had been lost in the midst of improvements.

In education, our success often takes the form of change. We change standards and add programs. We implement technology, update curricula, and create formative, summative, informative and reformative assessments to test our theories of change. We stop, collaborate and listen … and we implement the suggestions that we are given by peers, administrators, students and families. We PD360 it, and then we sometimes 180 it as we realize that the “opposite day” our kiddos talk about might really be the best day for us as well. We conference and tweet and post and Pin and then we blog, so others will know of the best conferences and tweets and posts and Pins. We subscribe and read and scroll and listen and watch.

The children that we serve are also changing with each passing year, and we strive simply to keep up with their lives. We do it all in the name of getting better, and yet, sometimes, we lose the reason we set out to do this in the first place. That raw talent or strength of calling that once helped give us our identity among our students gets thrown out with last year’s curriculum and outdated assessments. The things that drove our passion get replaced with strategies to transform the way we “do school.”

Change is good; it is crucial to our success, in fact. As a writing teacher, though, I tell my students that with every revision, they must remain true to themselves. As teachers, we must keep that same truth in mind as we change and adapt and transform. If a teacher’s strength is a personality that creates an environment where students want to be, then we can’t let that personality get jaded by reform.

If the calling is that of service to children and families, we can’t watch that heart for service be replaced by a necessity to lead them simply to perform. If there is love for content and a passion for delivering it, that passion can’t fade into the background of a new program that offers solutions for more uniform ways of teaching.

Perhaps as teachers complete their self-reflections and professional growth plans for PGES, we should choose an aspect of our career not because we have never implemented it, but because there once was a time when we did.

About halfway through the concert, the lights were dimmed, the band exited the stage and the artist stepped forward with just his guitar. The crowd hung on every word. He did his thing, to himself he stayed true, and my hope for balanced improvement was restored.

Find that calling, teachers. It’s still in there, and it’s still needed. May we continue to let it burn brighter than even the best choreographed reforms.

Lea Ann Atherton teaches writing at Lone Oak Middle School in Paducah (McCracken County). She is a Hope Street Group Teacher Fellow.

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