I first noticed Isabella because she was drawing, but it was not the time for drawing. I imagine your classroom is the same: you have at least one student who’s doing something they enjoy, but at the wrong time. Isabella is a beautiful girl with big brown eyes. But she rarely brings a smile to school. She seems sullen and reclusive most every day.
Earlier this school year, I complimented her drawings, which produced a smile and a sparkle in her eye. And then I reminded her that it was time for “writing, not drawing.” I already knew her writing was creative. Surely she could enjoy that as well? But Isabella became more sullen. I needed to reach her again.
The next day, as I’m again teaching writing, I see her drawing. This time, I don’t correct her. I realize that her grades are fine, she’s learning. And I realize that five years ago, I wouldn’t have let her drawing continue.
Compared to five years ago, I’m a better teacher. But it’s not from just the years of experience. I’m a better teacher now because I’ve been out of the classroom for 3 years, mostly coaching teachers as an instructional coach.
Those years outside the classroom taught me perspective, as did hundreds of hours spent with veteran teachers. I could write a long list here of all the things I learned I learned during that time. But every item on that list can be linked to just one question: What is my joy?
What is your joy?
Your joy is unlikely to be found in staff meetings, teacher evaluations, or standardized tests. You became a teacher because you’re creative and talented and you want to love children using those gifts.
Growing your children is how you love them. Loving them means pushing them to learn and to do their very best. Every day, you create engaging lessons. And even on days that aren’t as well planned, you teach them well. You know that as long as you love them, you will grow them.
When I face competing priorities, I challenge myself to remember what’s more important, the evaluation I have tomorrow or teaching my children during that evaluation? One reminder in the morning is enough to make me a better, happier teacher throughout the day.
My artist student, Isabella, approached me yesterday, asking to work on the laptop after she finished all her work. She’s rewriting one of her favorite books. I look deep in her eyes as she looks at me expectantly, but such things are not part of today’s work. “No,” I would have said 5 years ago. But now, “Of course.” Her joy, from one of her rare and radiant smiles, reconnects me both to her, and to my best teacher self.