Monday, March 6, 2017

It's Easy for You

Dave Burgess has a great line about the six most insulting words you can hear from a colleague, 

"It's easy for you, you're creative." 

The implications of statements like these, when made by teachers, are serious. First of all, nothing about this is easy. Someone like me that has a lot of passion and energy for what I do, I deal with it daily. There's a suggestion that, for some reason, there are magical fairy teachers out there that don't have to work as hard because they have some sort of natural gift. They were born with the lesson planning gene.  I hear it all the time. Conversations usually start like this:

"How do you manage?"

"When do you sleep?"

"When do you see your family?"

Sure these statements are usually made in jest, and are designed to be complimentary. They make me feel like I am one of the teachers in those crummy clipart pictures, arms folded as I look knowingly at the camera. But when I tell teachers that my personal life is fine, that I get eight hours of sleep (most nights) and that I wrestle with my kids on the living room floor every night, I get the same response.

"Well, I don't have time for that."

I think it goes without saying that no one gets better at anything without some sort of persistent effort. Some sort of personal sacrifice. But in education we are always trying to figure out how we can get away without doing that. Getting maximum output without changing the way we do anything. Newsflash -- you can't.

At some point you have to challenge yourself. Look in the mirror and make a commitment to try something new, get uncomfortable, push the envelope in some way.

I think about the trajectory my career has taken. I began my career as a very mediocre and uninspiring elementary teacher. I apologize to the kids in my classes those first few years. I was worried about myself most of the time -- worried about it being easy. Four years later I quit teaching and took a job working in student affairs at a local college.

After living in the non-teaching world for a year and seeing the soul-sucking nature of not enriching the lives of students every day, I decided to challenge myself. I took a job in a new district, teaching something new. I made a commitment to be outspoken and be a leader. To challenge myself as I challenged my students. Something clicked.

I pushed further. Took on leadership roles. Started coaching. Then I challenged myself to advance my own education with a masters degree. I became invested in my job and I became a teacher leader. And I reached every goal I set for myself.

I continued to challenge myself -- get certifications, present at conferences, mentor other teachers. Things kind of started to snowball. That's gotten me where I am today. The thing is, it's never been easy. It's been work the whole time. Hard work. And I have never loved my job more.

There's no substitute for being good, and there's no way to be good at what you do without tremendous amount of effort. Yet, knowing this, and knowing what it takes for a teacher to move from mediocre to good to great, we still have teachers that say crazy things like...."It's easy for you."

Really, it's not. But even if it is, that's only because it was hard for a long time.

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