After watching last night’s election results, I found myself feeling defeated. I found myself scared of what will happen to us. I found myself all of a sudden feeling completely powerless in this world. To me, there is no more frightening feeling than feeling powerless. It terrifies me. It brings out the worst in me.
So I had to pull myself out of it. I had to remind myself how powerful we really are.
If someone were to ask me, “Who has the real power in education?” I would be able to respond without a moment’s hesitation. My answer is simple: Teachers. That’s right. Teachers. Many people, especially teachers themselves, would be surprised by that answer. Many would expect the answer to be much more far removed from the classroom. The president, those who write the standards, our local government, or the school board, any of those answers might seem more likely.
In the standardized world that we live in, it is easy to feel as if teachers are the last people with any real power in the world of education. We are often told what we should be teaching, when we should be teaching it, and how we should be teaching it.
But what we sometimes fail to realize, is that with all of these standards, with all of these rules, we are still the ones making the day-to-day decisions. We are the ones on the front lines. We are the ones who greet our students every single day and we are the ones who ultimately decide how we are going to guide them through their days. We are the ones who see our students not merely as pieces of data, but as living, breathing, dreaming, inquiring, inspiring and developing human beings.
Yes, there are things we are required to do. But so many decisions are left up to us. We often decide what books we read to our children. We decide what questions to ask our children. We decide when to push them and when to remind them of all that they have already accomplished. We decide when to intervene in a discussion and when to just let them follow their own paths. We decide when to provide support in solving problems and when to leave them be to figure things out on their own. We decide when to take them to the next level and when to let them simply relish in the joy of their recent accomplishments, so that they will be motivated by the feeling of success. These decisions are not small ones. These are the ones that matter. These are the ones that will create not just better students, but better human beings.
It is so easy to lament the current restrictions and guidelines put on us as teachers. But, at the end of the day, it is so much more productive to look for the opportunities that we do have to decide what we create inside of our classrooms. When I find myself overwhelmed by the documents that tell me what I am supposed to teach, I simply look away from the documents for a moment. Instead, I look toward my students. I look toward the tiny faces of the tiny humans sitting right in front of me, looking to me to show them where to go.
And then I ask myself, “What do they need in order to be successful in the world outside of my classroom?” And once I have figured that I out, I ask myself, “What can I do to get them there?” Once I have those answers, only then do I turn back to those documents, and then I find a way to make the standards that I am given, work for the actual people sitting beside me. That gives the standards, the expectations, the guidelines, the objectives, whatever you want to call them, that gives them meaning. That makes them meaningful to my students and to me. And that is where the real power comes from. That is what we get to do. And there is simply no more powerful work than that.