"Some day, I hope to have things figured out like you do. I mean, you wrote a book, you have a great website, and you know how to teach my kids the way I want to teach my kids."
At the time, I didn't know how to react. So instead, I tweeted this:
I have been, and probably always will be, a very insecure person. It doesn't matter how many books I've written, websites I've created, followers I've attracted, or speeches I have given. Yes, in the moment, those things are all fantastic and I am incredibly proud of the opportunities that I have pursued or those that have been presented to me. Yes, I am honored that you think so highly of me based on the perception that those things make me a better educator. The truth, though, is that I am constantly questioning if I am doing what is best and what is right. Even when I'm invited to be a keynote (A KEYNOTE) speaker, I doubt the value of what I am about to present.
To a large extent, I believe that we all feel this way. I mean really, why else would over 1,000 people broadcast that simple tweet of vulnerability to the people they follow?
On top of that, think about the work that people are doing. For the sake of simplicity, I'll stick with math. If Fawn were content with what she was doing, would we have ever seen Visual Patterns? If Nat were content with what he was doing, would we ever see Fraction Talks? Same with Mary and Which One Doesn't Belong, Andrew and Estimation180, Dan and 101qs, Karim and Mathalicious, Robert/Nanette and Open Middle, and so many more.
"But those people are so... popular."
Sure. And that's great. We don't celebrate the work that teachers do often enough. At the same time, my hope is that you have people in your department who are also uncomfortable with a specific lesson, unit, or chapter, and want to revise it. They are seeking new/better/more effective ways to reach their students, even though it's their 24th year in the classroom. Just yesterday, I sat across from my colleague, a math teacher of 31 years, and heard her say that she has to scrap everything and build a new lesson because she found a better way. I don't need to create a website or product to add value to my team, myself, or my students.
What I'm saying here can probably be boiled down to this:
- These people you hold up higher than yourself should not be*; they have created a product out of necessity for their students and share it with the rest of the world, not out of desire to be famous.
- Teaching is hard, and it should be. It's also worth it, and it should be.
- New teachers need to be supported a lot, and not so that they can figure it all out, but so they can learn to manage the year-after-year evolution of their craft.
I've had quite a few comments on the tweet, and I'm going to share some of them. Before I do, I want to address one:
With that said, there does need to be some clarification. While I am always questioning, doubting, and improving, I do have more confidence about my abilities than when I was a first, second, or third year teacher. I have found a rhythm that allows me to control a class. I can manage students with a variety of needs a lot better now than I could before. I understand the flow of a unit a lot more now than I used to. If a class isn't going well, I can pivot to something new a lot more effectively than I could have in the past. I know my content better now than I did in year one, even with a degree in mathematics.
Those things are what experience gets you. It isn't this mountain that you climb, then look down on your prior years of experience as steps to a finish line. For me, the teaching career is a never-ending puzzle, with multiple solutions, but always a better way. As we work through the puzzle, we get better at finding solutions, but each door begets three more, all of which present new challenges.
For the new teachers reading this, you have chosen the right career. It is now up to you to accept the challenge of being humble enough to accept a lifetime of growth. Growth comes with hardships, but it also comes with a whole lot of joy.
May you find both, and learn to embrace it all.