Becoming a Master Teacher: Practice Self Care
I have spent my career studying the systems and experiences that make school a dangerous place for students. This led me to teaching. I felt the way I could make the most impact was to be in the classroom, working directly with students and developing creative and engaging content. I still feel this way. But this is no longer why I teach.
Today, I teach because I thoroughly enjoy going to work every day to hang out with a bunch of teenagers. I teach because sharing my love of history and sociology with others makes me giggle with joy. I teach because, on Friday, a student walked right up to me at the beginning of class and said, to my face, “You know what, Ms. Date, you are a just a grown-up nerd.” I teach because my students are the center of my world, and I love that about them.
Non-teachers may say think this sentiment is “cute”. Some teachers may call it impossible and cliché. Whatever they may think, it’s the truth.
I have a confession to make: I am one of the nearly one million viewers tuning in for HBO’s Vice Principals. The show’s been criticized by notable publications like Slate and The Guardian, and justly so—dozens of cringe-worthy comments and scenes, especially surrounding the racially-charged issue of the new black, female principal, have made me turn away from the television.
But something draws me back. It’s the way I see my school and my colleagues in the show. Sure, it’s distorted and exaggerated for the viewers’ amusement, but when the goings on at the fictional North Jackson High School are familiar. The poorly-run restorative practices room, the gossip in the teachers lounge, and Mr. Gamby – many think, “That happens at my school, but it’s not that bad.” That’s the draw. That’s the dark comedic escape.
Before I became a teacher I genuinely believed in the ludicrous notion that all teachers across the world were associates of a secret society. One in which they only befriended one another and shopped at “teachers only” grocery stores. If such a society exists, then I have not yet received my membership invitation. I did, however, receive a reality check – hitting me hard about seven years ago, on my first day working as a teaching assistant.
It was lunchtime on that fateful day and my 18-year-old brain was channeling my inner-voice fueled by Lindsey Pollak’s From College to Career. I thought (with far too much enthusiasm), I’ll go sit in the teachers’ lounge and network!” I entered the motivational poster-laden door only to find three empty chairs and a forgotten-worksheet covered table. I walked the halls of this seemingly empty school and despondently realized that every one of the staff members was eating lunch alone. Some were on their cellphones, complaining about their work, while others sat in the dark listening to calming music.