Susan Engel, in an article for The Atlantic, said “Human lives are governed by the desire to experience joy. Becoming educated should not require giving up joy but rather lead to finding joy in new kinds of things…” Joy is something I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on lately, because it’s come up in so many conversations. When our team discusses the progress and growth of our teachers, it’s rare to see joy come into the picture. When we discuss our students’ growth and experience in the classroom, joy is a word we don’t often use to describe it.

The type of joy that Engel describes, the ability to be deeply absorbed by something, seems hard to find as adults. We are so engrossed in work and bills and other responsibilities that taking time out for pure joy and pleasure seems almost impossible at times. Where children have an easy time of finding things to be awed by, we take much of our world for granted.

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Bringing the World into Our Classrooms

There is a LOT going on in our world today from ongoing conflicts to extreme violence to protests for various causes to controversial political decisions. In this environment, especially when your context only allows you to interact with your students once a week, it can be difficult trying to find the time and the words to discuss what’s happening to our world.

As a human being, I’ve never been interested in politics and although I have felt deep sadness at the violence that is committed around the world, I have never gotten involved in any way myself. It was not until the 2016 presidential election in the U.S. that I told myself I needed to do something, no matter how small. Why now? Well, now it’s something that is affecting my identity in several ways: as a woman, a Muslim, an American.

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Reflections on 2016 (the teacher version)

I spent much of my childhood making my sister and our stuffed animals act as my students. I imagined myself a teacher to the extent that I kept a grade sheet on each animal (and my sister, when she complied). I’m pretty sure that not every student passed my class.

Now, half of my 5th year of teaching is complete and although my dreams of writing on chalkboards (or whiteboards) and grading papers have been accomplished, there are always so many things to continue reflecting on as I continue teaching.

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Reflections on 2016 (the coaching version)

At the beginning of the summer of 2016, I was questioning my role in my current profession. I was wondering if I was cut out to be a coach and if I even wanted to stay in this context of religious education, which can be difficult in itself. After several tough, yet enlightening conversations, I was able to come to the realization that it wasn’t the job I wanted to leave, it was the lack of trust and genuine relationships at work.

When we discuss the time that children spend on various things in their lives, we often recognize that they spend much of their time at school interacting with teachers, other staff members and peers. Likewise, adults spend a lot of their time at work (oftentimes, even more so than kids do at school). This is an interesting point to note because we don’t often consciously think about this fact and how much it affects who we are as people and the fullness of our lives as individuals.

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Knowing Where You’re Going…

There are a lot of things that can go wrong in a classroom. Students can cause issues for various reasons, the pedagogy just won’t work with a certain class, technology fails on us or we forget supplies we need. One of the biggest things I’ve noticed as I work with other teachers and reflect more deeply about my own practice is that a lot of issues within any classroom space can be resolved if you know where you’re going. By this I mean that, as a teacher, we need to know what it is that our students should achieve by the end of the lesson, unit and school year. We should fully understand the content and we should know why it’s important and relevant to the lives of our students. After all, if we don’t know these things, then how will our students learn them?

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The Most Important Quality

While speaking with a colleague a few weeks ago, we got into a discussion about what it takes to be a good teacher. Obviously, there’s no list of characteristics floating around the world that tells us everything we need to achieve as educators. We began wondering if, within our own school system, we could create something which would enable us to work towards a defined list of things a teacher in our system should aim for.

While this process will take time, effort and lots of thought, I’ve been thinking on my own about what it means to be a good teacher. There are many, many articles and books and websites dedicated to creating the best teacher but how helpful are they? With the diversity of classrooms, students, contexts, and curriculums, can one list ever suffice for every educator no matter where they are? I don’t think so, but I do think that there are some characteristics that might be more generalizable than others.

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