For the last two days, I’ve been reading Paul Solarz’s (that looks weird, I think it should be Solarz’) book Learn Like a Pirate. I am pretty sure he is the best fifth grade teacher ever. This bothers me for two reasons. One is that I am pretty sure I can never reach his skill level. And two, I just left my fifth grade classroom and feel like I need to go back right away to try out all of the things I just learned from his book.
Quick story: I taught third grade for nine years, needed a change of scenery, moved to fifth grade. I taught fifth grade for the last two years, saw the opportunity to move into administration and was lucky enough to get the job. I am thrilled with where I am, but Paul! PAUL! Don’t do this to me!!!
I actually wondered tonight if Paul was the inspiration for Aaron Hogan’s book, Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth. (I haven’t read Hogan’s book yet. It is waiting patiently in my steadily growing summer reading pile.) My guess is no, but I would not be surprised at all if it was the truth.
More importantly, the feeling of being not good enough is real in teaching, and probably elsewhere. My advice for young teachers: don’t let those feelings get in the way of becoming that teacher. I appreciate that Solarz mentions in his book how he shifted his teaching from a traditional content/curriculum approach to twenty-first century learning (to a degree that I find both inspiring and intimidating).
Another side story: A while back, when I was an assistant football coach, the head coach at our school asked if I ever thought about becoming a head coach. I said I had thought about it, but one reason that held me back was that he set such a high bar, and I wasn’t sure I could ever reach it. (I can confidently say he has forgotten way more about football than I have ever known, maybe twice over, and I actually think I know a good bit.)
His wise response has stuck with me ever since.
“It’s not about what you know. It’s about what you’re willing to learn.”
When we feel overwhelmed or intimidated, I think we are doing two things. First, we are realizing how much work it will take to get to that place. Secondly, we are asking ourselves if we are willing to work that hard to get there. In the back of our mind, most of us know that we are capable of learning enough to make significant improvements. Whether we want to put in the time and effort necessary.
Reading Learn Like a Pirate, I recognized the incredible work Solarz put into redefining his classroom and teaching. While the current iteration of his classroom model sounds incredible in book form, I can also appreciate that this did not occur overnight. The explanations of the research and reflection he put into improving his teaching appear somewhat subtle, but you don’t achieve his classroom success without incredible dedication and commitment. The element that struck me most is his ability to connect so many ideas. The sheer number of authors, educators, websites, and real word scenarios that he has considered and utilized in his teaching evidence his willingness to learn.
Innate ability does not make a great teacher. It is their willingness to learn in order to redesign the learning experience for their students..
Fortunately, I recognize that I have made some similar strides in my teaching; far fewer I’m sure, but those strides are milestones nonetheless. Every shift I have made in my classroom has given me the confidence and motivation to make an even greater shift. It allows me to connect with other educators, to try out new strategies, to publish a blog, to take risks in my work.
Frustrating as it may be that I won’t be able to turn my old classroom into a Learn Like a Pirate playground next year, I am thrilled with my choice to move into administration. One of the reasons I did it is because I want to learn how to take these ideas into more than one classroom. I am excited, and nervous of course, to take on a new challenge. The truth is that there will be another book like #LearnLAP in the future that I wish I could try in my own classroom. Instead, I will be more skilled at helping other teachers take risks and use them in their classrooms. I’m sure I’ll make mistakes along the way, but:
It’s not about what I know, it’s about what I am willing to learn.