March 6 NaBloPoMo – best vs. worst self

Does blogging bring out your best or worst self?

A veteran teacher once told me that our greatest strength can also be our greatest weakness. For example, my attention to detail and organization can be wonderful for setting up a classroom structure and learning environment, but can also keep me from being comfortable with uncertainty. Case in point: reconciling the way I have thought about teaching math with the way that our Theory of Knowledge (TOK) workshop teacher asked us to think for our pre-workshop homework. Our assignment: develop two activities using the new Ways of Knowing (faith, intuition, imagination, and memory) in our subject area.

Upon reading that, I gave my laptop the side-eye and said “come again for Big Fudge?”*

The characteristic that can sometimes enable to be my best self as a teacher in the classroom was turning me into my worst self as a student in the classroom. When my students say “I don’t get this” or “I need help” I encourage them to push themselves into that zone of discomfort where learning happens and experiences imprint themselves onto their brains. Yet when faced with this uncomfortable assignment, I felt like them. After years of breaking down steps of mathematical processes to make them more accessible, developing creative projects to put math in engaging contexts, and thinking about “how can I make [topic X] clearer to students?” I could not handle such open-endedness.

Luckily, my boss (who happened to have taught both math and TOK prior to becoming a principal) talked through Ways of Knowing with me and helped demystify the assignment. I’ve prepared two activities (one about intuition in finding out the problem is impossible and one about beauty in math). However, the most important lesson to me was the direction to “channel your inner [Theatre Teacher].”

When my boss said that, I had another “come again for Big Fudge?” moment.** I would construct a fort out of cafeteria milk crates and hide in it if faced with directing a show, emceeing an assembly, singing, playing piano, writing poetry, or leading a discussion based on a poem. I said, “I don’t have an inner [Theatre Teacher]. We’re kind of…completely different.” And then I realized that the point wasn’t to develop musical or theatrical talents. The point was to think more with a mindset for big ideas rather than details and to get comfortable with uncertainty. My inclination to look for certainty rather than questioning big ideas or getting metacognitive was limiting the way I was thinking about Ways of Knowing. All Ways of Knowing are mentally flawed to some extent. We have to question them and to assess how we know what we know rather than accepting everything as certain.

Blogging also brings out aspects of my best self and worst self. Reflecting more on my teaching practice has made me much more mindful about it. I have improved at planning lessons by incorporating lessons learned from those reflections. I try to plan out the warmup, discrete chunks of activity, and cooldown so that the class is a motivating, clearly defined mental workout. I want my students to feel the way I do when I’m in a spin or barre class that hits the sweet spot of “makes you worrrrrrrrk” + “makes you feel confident.” I’m aiming to plan the lesson rather than make a lesson plan. For instance, I reverted back to planning out my ideas on paper (though it is fancy green engineering graph paper left over from my grad school days). I am also happy that I’ve started a) cooking more b) cooking more healthy stuff and c) using my DSLR more to document the results of said cooking. I’m happy that I’ve met some really cool bloggers and experienced new fitness and food opportunities.

On the other hand, the worst self lets old habits of overscheduling and excessive use of social media creep back in. The worst self does not think about adjusting her time commitments when RSVPing to events. She forgets to leave wiggle room in her calendar to account for feeling tired after a blogger fitness class or for the time it takes to write posts. The worst self slacks on her carefully cultivated habit of finishing her lesson plans and copies before checking personal email or social media. She checks social media more than she wants to. She compares herself to the cheerful, accomplished folks on her Bloglovin’ feed and worries that she’s not good enough. In spite of all that, I think the best self still wins out because she is definitely good enough.

*HIMYM reference. I am not actually a large chocolate dessert.
**In my head. I did not actually utter those words to my boss. I did, however, probably have the side-eye.

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