Being a teacher is hard. It’s a profession that has become so convoluted by reform, change, policy, rules, procedures, curriculum, assessment, data, acronyms, workshops, paperwork, etc., etc. etc. You know how hard it is, because I’ve told you countless times and have lamented endlessly about the plight of a modern day teacher. Usually, I wind up feeling defeated while being overworked, overwhelmed, and over-caffeinated.
But there are moments in time that if you would snapshot my practice (because I’m always practicing), you would see- and possibly understand- why I do it. You would truly understand why I continue to work in a career with such a high input without much output at times. Friday was one of those times, those snapshots. And it was a professional development (insert wide eyed emoji here) opportunity.
A little backstory for you here, if you are not a teacher: Professional development (or you parents know these as workshop days) can be pretty dull. They are often necessary and inform teachers of the latest actions of legislation… such as recent SLO training (if you WANT to know the meaning of this acronym, you can ask any teacher in the state of Maine, but really, I think you’re all set, remember that ignorance is bliss). But the SLO training: Informative? Absolutely. Necessary? Yes. Doable? Sure. Fun? Maybe for a few. Simple? Not even close. PD (see? I told you we use a lot of acronyms) is often the time where us, as teachers, get trained in new ways of doing things, when sometimes the old way was just fine. But politicians change education, it’s fine. Really.
Before my blog goes off on a politician tangent, I will get back to Friday. We gathered as a team of educators with Maine’s Department of Education Visual and Performing Art Specialist and an Arts Integration Specialist to explore strategies to implement within our classrooms, become comfortable with collaboration, and to create units that will help teachers across the state become encouraged to collaborate and integrate subjects with the goal of holistically educating our students, all while returning creativity to the classroom via the arts. Sounds like a lot. But we will also be doing this with the schedule constraints, time constraints, red tape, etc. that all educators are up against. We are the everyman of every teacher out there who is standing there thinking, “There has to be a better way to get my kids thinking.” We are going to show you how to do it.
The Integration Specialist started with feedback she’s heard while presenting her practice. She said she hears things such as, “Well, that’s great… but where’s the data?” And I perked up. I listened intently because I realized… when did a lesson that was awesome and engaged all students become not enough? When did we stop saying “Well, that’s great… but is it good for kids?” I was also reminded of the statement I made to my AP class at the beginning of this year: “I am sort of forced to teach English as a Science. But it’s not. It’s an art.” She then proceeded to give us the data that backs up what she’s saying. My kind of girl, right there.
So, yeah, Friday was amazing. It was inspirational, educational, and life changing. Okay, that may be a bit of hyperbole, so I will say game changing. And in a good way. Our coach, who is actually employed at the Maine DOE (Department of Education, people, keep up) helped us see our playing field in a new light. We were asked to look at our content as a craft and then to take a step back to view it as a whole. We were encouraged to identify how creativity has been lost. We got to recreate creativity in our content. Cutting edge stuff compared to recent changes. But not cutting edge enough to be different from my schooling. So why was it so amazing?
We were basically told that we are awesome, we know what we are doing, and we get to prove that by creating a unit that is integrated with art somehow.
I was told to hold a mirror up to myself and see the value, potential, and expertness (?) in myself as an educator. I am an educator before I’m a teacher and that’s gotten lost in the mass of other ‘stuff’ I have to do. They may be synonyms, but the simplicity of our day, the fun factor of the strategies we learned were activities that we could integrate daily, without taking away time and without affecting test scores. We have been made to believe that giving art project options are not indicative of what students will see on standardized tests.
But art is creation, the highest level of the taxonomy. Art has gotten a bad rap over the past few years because of the pressure put on teachers to teach, teach, teach, then assess, assess, assess using multiple choice tests because they are objective, not subjective. But last time I ventured into the real world, answers to problems were not presented in a multiple choice format. When I have face a challenge as a parent, I’m not given a paper that has neat little bubbles with a direct right/ wrong answer. Sometimes the choices I make will only be revealed as right or wrong (or somewhat wrong) years later. Art allows people to make decisions and think outside of the box. As an adult, outside of the box thinking will get me further in life than being able to choose the right answer on a page.
Myself, along with two colleagues from our district, worked with some amazing professional people from across the state and I was reminded why Maine is so cool. I was reminded why teachers were essential. We had fun. We participated. We played. And we learned.
We explored the UMO performing arts center, which got us up, moving, and learning. When we got back to our ‘black room’, we were given background information on the work that we were going to be asked to do. We were reminded of the hard work this project would entail. We were shown how to easily integrate art within any classroom. We became a cohort and practiced interdependence. We acted. We drew. We wrote. We discussed data. We discussed time. We discussed schedules. We made decisions. We collaborated. We learned. We did so many things in an 8 hour day that I was tired. But good tired. Then I thought to myself: How can I bring that type of engagement to my own classroom?
Overall, my students know that I’m passionate about my job and about what I teach. But they only see the side of me that’s the finished product. They get to see my ‘show’, my ‘act’. There are few students who see and understand the other side of my job. I have many that question the point, the relevance, and I spend a lot of time convincing, supporting, sometimes coercing students in participating in activities that are challenging… and for the most part I succeed. But leaving this professional development opportunity, I realized that’s not why I became an educator. I should not be convincing people to participate, they should be excited to. And that is on me. I can’t WAIT to facilitate this mindset within my classroom and collaborate with educators throughout the state. Well done, Maine DOE, well done.