Friday, April 01, 2011

What If You're Awesome, And You Don't Know It?

At my 1st teaching gig in central New Jersey, I taught at a newly opened school in a great district. We started out as only a 9th grade campus in 1997 where the kids fed into the "other" high school. Then the 2nd year, we were 9th and 10th, and again the kids fed into the "other" high school. Eventually, we were a full 9-12 school and fed ourselves.

In those 6 years I taught there, we started out with 6 or 7 math teachers and became pretty close. They showed me daily/monthly/yearly examples of what an awesome teacher and an awesome/sharing math department looked like. I'm still really good friends with 2 of them (hey! let's visit each other once a year or two) (even though none of us are at that school or in NJ any more) and keep in Christmas/birthday card contact with 3 of the other teachers.

Anyway, what does this have to do with this post? Eh .... only indirectly because one of the HS teachers shared this story with me one time about one year when she was teaching 4th grade, and she described it as a "magical year". She clicked with the kids, they did cool projects, they gelled, the kids loved her, she loved them, and amazing learning went on, etc. (FYI she told me this story because at that time, I taught a 9th grader that had been in her 4th grade class). Anyway, this is one phrase I always remember: "magical year".

Side note: maybe some people right now are making a goofy face and and saying, "yeah! I got your magical year, lady." because you're at a struggling school or have non-cooperating-in-some-way students or whatever. Feel your pain. Been there at other times. Sorry. Hugs. Enough about you.

Back to me.

So, you see where I'm going with this. This year. In my IED (engineering class). I'm having a magical year. Have I mentioned this before? I yap about it all the time in "real life". The kids in there are smart. They work hard. They ask great "what if" questions. They push me to be better and deliver better. We go beyond the curriculum and explore, just because we want to learn and do and be. They're MUCH smarter and harder working and savvy than I was at that age. In my mind they are rock stars.

And so I think that's obvious to them. Let's see. 14 years of teaching. Approximately 120 (rough rough rough) kids per year. Ish. 120 x 14 = 1680 kids. Yeah, I can get a general feel for average and above average students. It's a no-brainer to me that they are above average. I think of them as poised and self-confident and bla bla bla.

Well. I don't think they think so or know so. Which has altered my reality. Note that these are freshmen. Fourteen to fifteen years old. I have such a high opinion of them that it doesn't always register with me that they've had a limited view of the world. Here are 2 things that have happened lately.

First: a few of them were having trouble with another teacher. Long story short, they felt intimidated in class and stupid and not worthy for various reasons. .... What?! This is SO not the population I thought would feel "unsmart".

Second: today in IED we were having a visit to get nationally certified as a PLTW program. That means that a gentleman came for the day and put us under the microscope and asked questions and probed adults and students and counselors, etc. So. He was in my 9th grade class and talked with various students, and I saw him talking to one of my amazing girls and didn't think anything of it. Come to find out later. She told the other PLTW teacher that she was so nervous and intimidated when he was asking her questions about her classwork and such. Hah! In my mind, I was all, "Score! He's talking to one of my superstars. We'll look great! She'll be great!". And here all this time she's probably thinking, "oh no! Big scary adult talking to me. Nervous!"

She's awesome and doesn't know it. How does that slip past you? But then when I ask that question, the answer is obvious. As a person, you only have your point of view and how you act and how you think things should be done. You just think it's business as usual. There's probably other people around you going, "WHOOOOOOO! Superstar!", but they don't mention that to the person because they think it's a no brainer, and the Superstar MUST know they're great ..... so maybe no one ever TELLS them they're great ..... it's like if a person has brown hair, no one ever goes around and thinks to mention, "hey! Do you know you have brown hair?". They think it's SO obvious it doesn't bear mentioning.

And then there's that OTHER problem where HOW you complement someone affects the outcome. They may just discount your praise with a "yeah, but...." in their heads and not absorb the information.

Anyway, ramble ramble ramble. P.S. we got certified. Yay! And I'm having a magical year with my cute 9th grade IED kidlets. And I have to think of a way to get them to know they're phenomenal.


  1. Wonderful story. And I feel that way about some of the teachers I know. How do you NOT know you're so great??? Because you are. And if you aren't, I don't want to think about what that means for me......

  2. Wait .... who are we talking about here? Awesome teachers????? I'm guessing we all have our moments of awesomeness, and then we go back to critiquing every single way we taught something and KNOWING it could be much improved.

  3. Anonymous8:05 PM

    Send your class e-mail with the URL of this blog. Then they'll know how you feel about them.