Sunday, August 26, 2012

Pressing On in the New School Year

As I start my 20th year in education, a profession I still love, I want to be energized and excited and open to possibilities.

The truth is, I'm anything but those things right now. Right now I'm just tired. There are several reasons for why I feel the way I feel, some of which I can identify and some of which I may be ignorant of, but regardless, it's where I am.

Even when I'm feeling discouraged, I try not to be Debbie Downer (or maybe Sandy Sadsack?) on my blog, because I want it to be a place people come for ideas and encouragement, but I also know it is important to be authentic.  Authenticity is important for the sake of my own reflection (I occasionally peruse my old blog posts to assess where I've been and as a result where I am and where I might be going) and for the sake of my readers. Because some of you probably struggle sometimes, and you need to know you're not alone.

Regardless of how I'm feeling, the cycle of the school year moves ever forward. In my district, the teachers have been back for a week and the kids start back tomorrow. So, I must press on.

Because of the way I'm feeling right now, I am thankful for coming across an intriguing video yesterday. This article on Skills Every 21st Century Teacher Should Know kept appearing in my Twitter stream and on the professional groups I subscribe to on Facebook, and on Saturday I finally clicked on it. I really didn't expect any surprises, but I did run across a treat.

A video of high school librarian  Joyce Valenza speaking last year at TEDx Philadelphia was embedded in the article. In it she recaps the evolution of how students seek information and what they do with it, starting in 1989. It wasn't lost on me that 1989 was the year I started college, already knowing I was going to be an educator.

Watching the video did not suddenly re-energize me, but it did remind me of why I do what I do, why all educators do what they do, is so very important, especially in the over-information age in which we live. In an age where technology gives people of all ages unprecedented access to information and a vast array of options for using that information.

Watching the video reminded me of one of my core beliefs: One of the most important things we as educators must continue to do is help our students learn a foundational set of facts in science and history and work with those facts and their implications through math and writing and literature. I have read in numerous corners of the blogosphere that rote memorization is so 20th Century, and yet we must teach students to be critical thinkers and recognize bad information when they see it. How can they do that if they don't have a solid foundation to reference?

As we continue to impart a solid foundation of basic knowledge to our students, we must also help them learn what to do with the information. And it must go beyond the research paper regurgitation students of my generation were taught. (Substituting PowerPoint or Prezi or pick your favorite publishing tool for the typed paper does not count.) In the hands of a well-educated, determined "average" citizen, technology can become a tool for change and progress. We have an equally important responsibility to teach students how to leverage these tools and use them for noble purposes. And how to recognize and combat those who will use the same tools to inflict harm on others.

Energy and excitement ebb and flow throughout a person's career and lifetime. Purpose, however, can remain a constant. So although I am admittedly tired right now, I am thankfully reminded of my purpose. Wherever you are personally as the school year may be starting or continuing for you, I encourage you to do something that will remind you of your purpose. Perhaps watching the video below will remind you, as it did me, that the meaning of "education" and "being educated" has changed vastly over the last 25 years, and it is our privilege to guide our students and even the education profession itself through the ever-evolving education landscape. Press on!