Dear Quitting Self:
Excuse my blatant disregard for pleasantries, but let’s clear something up right away. The only reason you – my quitting self – even exists is because I love not only what I do, but the profession that allows me to do it. My passion for the profession and the kids I teach created the space in which you live.
I’ve learned that when you love something, when you have an intense emotional investment in something, when you truly care, there will always be ups and downs, great days and not-so-great days, moments of extreme joy and moments of pure frustration. The downs, the not-so-great days, and the frustrations are times that wake you up like the loudest, most annoying alarm clock ever invented. They make me question what I’m doing and whether it’s worth it. They create doubts. And although these doubts will probably always exist I’m ok with that. When I started my teaching career I knew it would be hard, really hard. What I did not know are some of the places those difficulties would grow from.
At the National PE and School Sport Institute, Naomi Hartl shared this definition of passion from the Urban Dictionary: Passion is when you put more energy into something than is required to do it. Today, that definition hangs on my office door because my teaching partner and I try to live it. Not everyone gets to make a career out of their passion, which makes me one of the lucky ones. But even your passion can sometimes leave you completely physically, mentally and emotionally drained. When that happens, there you are, prodding me with your questions. “Do you really think you can keep this up for another 20-something years?” “Do you really have what it takes to be the teacher you want to be?” “Wouldn’t it be easier to just go and work a regular 9-5 job?”
What you don’t understand is that I chose to become a teacher because I wanted to positively influence the lives of young people. Good days and bad that’s what I do. And although teaching can be draining, my passion energizes me. When I feel exhausted or frustrated I’ve learned to pause and reflect. To ask myself, “What can I do differently?” This creative process excites me ands keeps me going. It makes me happy and helps me to never forget that your questions hold no weight, because the answer to all three of your “doubting” questions is “yes.” And I choose to teach.
The Catch 22 to this whole doubting thing is that sometimes the profession I love is also its own worst enemy. We both know that physical education has come a long way in recent years, but we also know that not every teacher is running a quality PE program. Teachers both young and old still have their students play dodgeball (or some variation of it), ignore teaching standards, put on a show only when someone’s watching, take advice from the wrong people because it is easier, and grade based on changing clothes.
Another quote written on my office whiteboard reads, “Is it best practice, or just a cool idea?”. That quote reminds me that just because something is shared on Twitter or Facebook, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s good teaching. On the Internet, at conferences and elsewhere, colleagues frequently share examples of poor teaching but present them as if they’re the greatest idea or strategy anyone ever imagined. This is when, despite my best efforts, you creep in again with your doubting questions. “PE teachers will never be seen as real teachers.” “You and your approach are in the minority and you always will be.” “Why do you put so much effort into advocating for a profession that doesn’t really want to change?”
You’re wrong! Our profession does want to change and there are a lot of people working really hard to advance the profession. They are assessing in meaningful ways to gauge student learning and promote collaboration, exploration and creativity. They understand higher order questioning, embedded formative assessment and the power of effective feedback. They are generating learning opportunities and assessments based on standards and specific grade-level outcomes. More and more teachers all the time are elevating professional practice. They are focused on substance and would rather having their teaching challenged than simply patted on the back. They invite you to look at their students’ accomplishments and implementing best practices when organizing their cool ideas.
I confess there are times that you do get to me such as when I am playing with my son and he’s telling me a story but I can’t stop thinking about my teaching: The situation I could have handled differently, the lesson that did not go according to plan and how can fix it next time, the clubs, the staff, next steps, and so on. Before I realize it, his story is done and I missed most of it. I hear you saying, “You will never get that moment back, this job takes too much of you.” And sometimes, maybe it does. I know I will never be able to completely turn work off when I am home, not the whole time I am home anyway, but I have learned, and continue to learn, how to press pause on work so my family gets the time they deserve.
When you work in education you have to believe in quality family time over quantity. Working in a school takes up a lot of time both in and out of the building, because your students deserve your time and attention. Like many educators I’m rarely satisfied with what I just did because I know there is always something that I could have done better. But I know I must carve out space for my family because they deserve it too. At first, I really struggled with that, and to be honest I still do. But I’m getting better. I guess in a way I should thank you for bringing the time conflict to my attention. If you hadn’t, who knows when or if I would have realized it.
You know, every teacher questions whether or not they can really do this job well. But in the end I get to spend my day working with some pretty amazing kids. They bring me joy. They are the reason I do what I do. They are my why! All day long I get to hang out with groups of kids for 40-minutes at a time and help them learn how to think. Not what to think, but how to think, to explore, question, unpack, and reflect. How to put all of that thinking into action that will improve their wellness, their quality of life for today and the future. I am so lucky to do what I do and I will never forget my good fortune or take it for granted. So, “quitting self” keep talking. I’m listening. Kind of.
Charlie A Rizzuto III