After just one year of being a technology coach in my district, I look back at what I used to do in my classroom and think I could have done better. Don't get me wrong; I always thought that--even from first period to second period. I always thought eighth period probably got the best class period of the day because I had tweaked the lesson, the assignment, the instructions, my knowledge. But this is different. I really think I would be a much better teacher today than I was even a year ago in my middle and high school English classes just based on the experiences I have been afforded this year.
I used to do things I thought were innovative in my classroom; I really did think of myself as a good teacher. We created podcasts on social issues as we were talking about author's purpose, research, and speaking and listening skills. We presented proposals for funding research on genetic diseases to local and state politicians after a joint project with biology on genetics. We created videogames to highlight didactic literature and universal themes present within The Pearl and modern society. We organized Lanesville Life Fest, a family festival that raised money for cancer research as we discussed business letter writing and research. I gave students choices on how they wanted to tackle a novel. I really did think I was doing a great job, but I know I could have done better, I should have done better.
Maybe it is the time I have been given this year to explore and learn and the ease you can get sucked into the bubble and routine of your classroom, but I was keeping my students from so many opportunities in the world. Why didn't I connect them with classrooms around the globe? Why didn't I fully embrace project-based learning and use those to drive instruction? When I did, I saw just as much understanding and comprehension, if not more, so why did I only do it "sometimes?" Why didn't I put learning in the students hands and just support along the way? Why didn't I force them to think critically more--beyond critical thinking questions to a text? Why didn't I consistently bring in real-world problems for them to solve?
Looking back at my 10 years in the English classroom, my favorite units to teach were the ones that I supported while the students led. My favorite units were the ones that students were constantly creating, not just consuming. The ones that sometimes I looked around my room and thought Um... so what am I supposed to do right now because they were all actively engaged and on track.
So why didn't I do those all the time? I don't know.
And that is why I owe my past students an apology. I now know I could have done better. And, now I will do better. As much as reflection is a part of the learning process, teachers need to reflect as well. For me it took getting out of my own classroom and my own head to see all the crazy-wonderful ideas out there at conferences or on Twitter.
No matter where my students are today, please take this message to heart: continue to learn, reflect, and grow. It is through this process that we become the best version of ourselves, personally and professionally.