Sunday, August 18, 2013

Never Be (Fully) Satisfied

The past few days, I've been reflecting on how much time I spent this summer working on writing and tweaking curriculum for the new school year. It's not exactly a new activity for me -- I pretty much write and tweak curriculum every summer -- but I think I probably got more done this summer than I've ever managed to.

I actually fleshed out two different curriculum maps with topics & aligned standards (first attempt at aligning Common Core, so probably lots of mistakes). I'd never made curriculum maps with a great level of detail before, and I'm pretty sure I'm going to be very thankful I did so this summer.

I also spent a lot of time this summer working on incorporating more Problem-Based Learning (PrBL) tasks & lessons into the curriculum (one such idea I had is detailed here; feedback is more than welcome!). I teach at a New Tech Network school, so a rigorous PrBL curriculum is my goal. I've spent hours and hours looking for ideas, researching, thinking, scribbling in my notebook (particularly for those middle-of-the-night ideas), typing pages of details, and probably making my wife very annoyed that I was spending so much time working. I hope the result is that my students do some really awesome, really meaningful learning this year.

Another goal of mine is to learn more about Common Core (I admittedly am still a novice), so when my principal e-mailed the staff earlier this summer about attending a Common Core workshop in September, I was all like "MEMEMEMEMEME!!" So, I'm excited to go, learn some more about Common Core, and hopefully take away valuable knowledge that I can incorporate into my professional practice.

And the idea of improving my professional practice is something I've been thinking about over the past few days.

I've found myself thinking a lot about all the things teachers do to try and improve their teaching. I see many teachers who I follow on Twitter talk about all the conferences they attend and share what they've learned. I have several friends who are enrolled in masters programs, learning more about educational technology, developing curriculum, or otherwise broadening their skill sets as educators. I've thought about the things I've done each summer since I started teaching: working on curriculum, participating in the professional community, working on my own masters, and constantly thinking (and often worrying) about how I can be a better teacher.

And as I thought about all of this, I realized something: I'm not sure I ever want to be satisfied with the kind of teacher that I am.

I'm sure not satisfied with my teaching right now. Frankly, I'm not that great at it. (Sure, I'm funny, handsome, irresistibly charming, and very humble; but from a pedagogical standpoint, those traits can only carry me so far.)

But I don't think I want to ever be fully satisfied with my teaching, not even after I've been teaching for thirty (forty? fifty?) years. Sure, I want to feel happy about my teaching, which I think is a different thing. But not satisfied.

I think it's probably easier to feel this way now, since I'm only going into my fifth year. I know that I have a lot more to learn about teaching. Any fool can see that. There are roughly eleventy billion areas where I can to improve my teaching. I have rather lofty goals for myself this year. I might not meet them all this year, but that just means I'll regroup next summer and try again the following year. And the following year. And the following year. And so on.

But when I've been teaching for a few decades, I don't know how easily I'll still see all of that. I don't know if I'll still be this enthusiastic about improving my craft or if I'll be like, "meh, I've been teaching for thirty (forty? fifty?) years, I'm awesome enough." I don't like that idea. I really hope instead that I'll always want to be a better teacher than I was the year before. Even if it's just a teensy bit better. My students deserve that much, I think.

I talked about this with my wife the other evening. She understood where I was coming from, and noted that this is true about many professions. I mentioned that I was (and am) nervous about meeting my new students on the first day. She said one of her past supervisors once told her that's normal; "that means you care." And my feeling nervous doesn't really stem from being scared about meeting a new group of people, but more from really really wanting to be a better teacher this year than I was last year. I don't want to let these kids down.

Summer is great. It's a time when teachers can work on improving themselves and do what they can to make the next school year better than the last one. I spent a lot of time this summer working on that. I always want to be doing that. I want to be happy with who I am as a teacher. But I also think that I want to never be satisfied. Maybe mostly satisfied. But not fully satisfied.


  1. I agree wholeheartedly! And I can assure you that the feeling doesn't go away, at least not within my 35ish years of experience. I hope we all want to move a bit farther down the path towards being the best we can be. And that's what it is-a path, not a destination. It's a privilege to walk a bit of this path with you, too, sir...Not that I'm biased or anything mind you.

  2. I also agree. If each teacher improved their practice each year, we would have some impressive teachers... and they are out there. They are the ones that change students' lives. It is the ones that are satisfied with what they've become that students will label as "bad" teachers. They can feel how much you care and how much you want them to succeed.
    Dylan Wiliam talks about this. He says that teachers who aren't improving should be fired. ( - this remark is at the end.)
    I actually wrote an email to my future self (through where I say I expect me to be better than I was. It gives me some extra motivation.

    1. Thanks for the comments! I was at a teacher mentor training session yesterday and we sort of touched on this. We talked about the qualities that make a good mentor and a not-so-good mentor, and one distinction that came up was the willingness to always learn and improve. A not-so-good mentor takes the position that they've "been around the block enough" and "know everything." A good mentor will realize that the mentor-mentee relationship is another opportunity to learn something new; after all, learning can be a two-way street, whether you've been teaching for 30 years or 30 minutes.