By Susan Forrest
I heard a keynote speech given by a school superintendent this week. He started by discussing a survey of 95 year olds. When asked “What are three things you would do more of if you had the opportunity to do it all again?” they said the following:
- Reflect more.
- Take more risks.
- Do more things that will last long after your gone!
That puts things into perspective. So these 95 year olds all seemed to agree that these were the 3 things they would do more. I don’t think I take a lot of time to reflect. I get something accomplished and move on – unless there is scheduled “reflection” involved – like a debriefing or committee meeting. I used to write in a journal, but somehow life got in the way and I don’t do this much anymore. If reflection is important for the student, it should also be important for the teacher. Building in a habit of “reflection” is important if you want to “reflect more”.
Do I take a lot of risks? I have a hard time answering that. I do try a lot of things in my classroom, but do I really get out there and “live”? What if we did like Jim Carey in the “Yes Man” – said Yes to everything that someone asked us to do? How would that change our lives. Pretty amazing things can happen. Sometimes it does not work out, but at least you tried. I don’t think many people take risks in life. However, I am glad that I am now in a position in my career that I can try new things. Sometimes it works – like using Plickers for “Pre-Lecture Quizzes”. Other times, it does not work – like using Kahoots for a homework assignment. But the more I try different techniques in the classroom, the more I weed out what works and doesn’t work for me. Since I started teaching at Butler, I have been able to refine my teaching and I do think that I have found a sweet spot – but I never quite feel that I have “arrived”. There is always room for improvement. I do “reflect” on how things go and am constantly tweaking what I do, making small improvements even from my Monday class to my Tuesday class. So both reflecting and taking risks can be applied to teaching.
Do more things that will last after you are gone. I think that we do many things in our lives, but do we do many things that will matter much in 10, 15, 25 years? Long after we are gone? So how does this relate to teaching? Do we really do things that make a difference? There are many questions that students have on the first day of class. Where is there classroom? Where do I sit in the classroom? Who is the teacher? How will we be graded? Who is my teacher as a person? Will my teacher treat me as a human being? Students coming into our classrooms really care about the last two – “Who is my teacher as a person?” and “Will my teacher treat me as a human being?” They have to know that you care in order to care about what you are teaching. We do need to take time to get to know our students. Having a conversation with that one student during before class starts, finding out one or two things about them that will not only help you remember their name, but remember the student as a person is so important. These kids coming into our classroom are already beat down by the world. We don’t need to beat them down anymore. So at the heart of the matter, what we teach won’t matter (mostly) to these students in 10, 15, 20 years. What does matter is that you cared and that they knew that you cared. What does matter is that they became a better person because of your class.
My mother was a librarian in the elementary schools for Winfield, El Dorado and Benton before retiring in 2008. We can’t hardly go anywhere but she does not get stopped by a student who stops and explains to their co-workers, friends or family that, “She was MY librarian”. That is the kind of enduring legacy that I want to have when I am old(er) and gray(er).