By: Zac Leonard

Do you ever feel empty?  Like you’ve poured yourself out on your students, colleagues, and family? We are in the thick of testing season, daily schedules and routines are in upheaval.  We are driven to control every voice, movement, and activity of a student’s day to ensure that those testing are not disturbed.  We worship at the altar of the numbers these test show, student’s future is decided by numbers on two tests.  I’m not one to stand up and make a fuss over testing; it’s a necessary aspect of what we do.  I know it also has supplied us with a means to target misconceptions and struggles to ensure we provide the best instruction for each student.  However, living and dying by the numbers is no way to teach.  Teaching at its very core is one of the most exhilarating professions; our history books are littered with the names of great orators who have come before us.  We subscribe to TED talks and listen intently to catch the next wave of innovation we can incorporate into our instruction.  Why? Why do we join Twitter chats, watch TED talks, or read blogs?  Why do so many of us pour our lives into learning, leading, and improving our profession?

Not all teachers have this passion, some had it and lost it, others have never experienced the joy of imparting information into the hearts and minds of the next generation.  Some are just beat up by the testing schedule, the constant reminder that although they are good enough to spend 180 days a year with these children, they may not be skilled enough to teach them what they need to know.  The negativity can be suffocating; it can squeeze the life out of the most engaging, energized, and effective teachers.  How can we insulate ourselves from the negativity, from the pressure to perform? The focus has to be working from our passion, not from the pressure. I’ve reflected over the past few weeks in my journey at home and school, and I’ve been asking myself three questions.  These three questions have helped me re-center, or refocus my vision.

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  1. Why do I teach?

I started with the most basic of questions, why am I here?  Why do I come in day after day, confining myself to benchmarks, the testing, the “rules” of school?  I hope my answer is similar to yours; I love seeing the light bulb go on!  I am addicted to seeing faces light up with inspiration, when the electrical pulse snaps in the brain for the first time and gives that person the feeling that they can accomplish this.  Just thinking about it gets me excited!  In the early years of my career, I saw this in the faces of students, and that was enough.  As I’ve honed my craft, I’ve longed to see it in the faces of my colleagues as well.  Seeing a teacher light up because their life is, a little bit easier, because they have left their comfort zone and tried a new tech tool.  Working with a teacher wrestling through classroom management in their first years inspired me to go back to school and seek an administrative position.  I started a company with my best friends who share my passion, so together we could help teachers see their potential the same way we open the eyes of our students daily.  At the very core of who we are, we can say, I AM A TEACHER!

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  1. How do I share what I love?

After I’ve established who I am at my core, why I put my shirt and tie on each morning, I need to know how I can share that passion with those who I’ve been blessed to share life with.  The cynic in me says people are only sharing because they want to be seen because they want to make a career power move, but we can’t allow each other to think that way.  Sharing our passions is something that should come easy, it becomes difficult when we start to anticipate what others will think or react to our passions.  That’s what I love about Twitter, we all come together sharing thoughts and ideas we may not agree on.  The value isn’t in seeing eye to eye, but in sharing our thoughts uninhibited.  Through my use of Twitter, connecting with other teachers, and growing a PLN I feel more free to share face to face.  That sharing can be small conversations in the hallway, book studies started organically among staff members, taking back the lounge to inspire each other through the end of the day; the point isn’t how you share or where you share it; it’s about sharing it!

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  1. What must my students know when they leave my class?

I’m passionate about seeing students learn and grow. Seeing other teachers experience the joy of awakening the mind of another person, but my last question is what am I teaching them?  #EdTechAfterDark hosted a chat on April 18th, about Awakening Social Activism in the hearts of our students.  That chat was birthed from the idea that my job isn’t to impart benchmarks alone to my students.  If students end the year leaving my room only knowing how to write an essay, or what an author means when they use figurative language, I’ve failed.  I speak for myself when I say that my job is to teach students to see each other, share their differences, and celebrate the unity they share as learners.  Data is important, it informs what aspects of the benchmarks we need to focus on teaching, but we cannot allow it to be everything.  When our students buy their first car, start their careers, or bring home their babies, the last thing they will be thinking about is if they scored a 5 or a three on the FSA in middle school.  They will be thinking about “What’s best for my family?”, “I will not allow others to be persecuted”, or “How can I ever love anything more than I do right now?” MY job is to leave a piece of my heart in their minds so when they face these questions they can confidently do what’s best for themselves, their family, and their country.

Teachers are constantly pouring themselves out, pouring their lives into those we serve: students, parents, peers, and administrators.  We cannot allow ourselves and each other to pour ourselves out without refilling.  Remember why we do what we do, join us as we seek to fill each other with hope for the future, love for students, and faith in each other.

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