Teacher Talk: Teacher Motivation
For many of us, February days are some of the loveliest. The classroom is buzzing with a happy hum, parents understand the expectations and we are preparing for conferences or narratives that detail how far the children have grown this year. But it's not always unicorns and rainbows. Sometimes the classroom doesn't gel just right. Sometimes there are children who challenge our resolve and our optimism more than we want to admit. Sometimes we wonder whether this is the work for us.
Teaching is a lonely work. On the best days, we are commending the children for their growth and progress, for emerging into norms we always believe them to be able to achieve. On the worst days, we're alone in our classrooms, or too busy or anxious or frazzled to connect with the one or two other adults who might share them with us. We may be filled with self-doubt. We may wonder how come all those teachers on those online message boards seem to be doing it better than we are. Even the truest believers may question their own expertise.
Remember: Montessori didn't really tell us a lot about her lonely days. There's no text called, "All the Times It Didn't Work," in our teacher education programs. Instead, she spoke with confidence about the discoveries she made in observing children, and, in doing so, sets our sites not only on functioning classroom settings, but on a wholly new kind of society. Sheesh. Thanks a lot, Maria. As if we didn't have enough on our plates just trying to keep up with the paperwork!
Look. It's hard work. It should be hard work. Our work isn't cogs and bubble sheets. We work in service to humanity. We work toward an undiscovered horizon. Even our strongest teacher educators are still working in the realm of hypothesis. We have yet to change humanity. We have yet to create that new society. And on the days when that horizon is a little farther away than our ability to imagine, it can seem like it's more im- than -possible.
It's hard. You can do this.
Take time for yourself, to remember what you love, what makes you laugh, how it feels not to feel so heavy. Take time to read the books that best inspired you when you were just starting out, to hear those phrases again on your lips, to remember how eager you were to change the world when you started. Take time to reach out to your favorite teacher educators or to the teachers who touched your heart most dearly, and ask them to remind you who you wanted to be.
You're already vulnerable. Be vulnerable. You're already afraid. Feel that fear. You're already doubting. Doubt. But do something about it. Ask for help.
When we reach out to each other, we run the risk that the people around us might realize we're not perfect. (Guess what? They already know.) When we reach out to each other, we take the chance that someone might realize that we don't have it all together. (Guess what? They already know.)
When we reach out to each other, when we move aside the masks we have created to demonstrate our expertise and our professionalism and our pure Montessoriness, when we make the space for eye contact and vulnerability and conversation, we move closer to the world we've been trying so hard to create. You can't crack through the lonely unless you're able to make space for another human being.
And here's the good news: some days it's hard. But it's not just hard for you. Some days are filled with doubt. But those doubts are not just yours. Some days you suspect Montessori was full of malarkey, but you're not the only one wondering whether she'd even recognize the movement we've created in her name. We all feel that some days.
We all feel that some days.
And if your own pride or fear or ego won't let you ask for help for yourself, do it because, when we reach out, we give each other permission to reach back. When you reach out to one another, you remind the other teachers and parents and administrators around you that it's ok to feel the hard days. It's ok to feel the doubts. And it's ok to ask for companionship in the meantime.
Move aside the space you were holding for those unicorns, and let it be filled by the companionship of other teachers with whom you can share your fears. They may not be as glittery, but their company is real, their comfort is true, and their connection is lasting... that, more than an imagined horizon, is what moves us closer to that new society.