Attention Students, This is your pilot speaking.

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Dear sweet seventh grade darlings,

While you’re on YouTube tonight, watch this. I have no clue about what I want to do with my life; I have no interests because I saw every subject of study as work, and I excelled at every subject just for the purpose of excelling, not learning. As I watch Erica Goldson’s famous valedictorian speech, I’m equal parts sad and intrigued. How did this happen?  And what if this is one of you in five years?

I spent 16 years learning how to become a teacher: 12 watching someone do it and 4 being told how to do it. (In what other profession is that a thing?) Yet you, the factory-generated commodities I’m expected to produce after 180 days, are left wanting. Unaware of what the real point of today’s class was. Unprepared for what the expectations of tomorrow are. Unsure of what untapped talents and passions you have.  

You are students who walk out of school “only being great at the game of school and not much else” (Couros).  You’ve worked the system since you first discovered stars and smiley faces are better than check marks and minus signs. You’ve been satisfied with ___% even if it means submitting incomplete work or copying someone’s answers.  If my classroom is one stop on the factory line, you are the faulty products not being set up for success but compliance.

So, how did this happen?

As my intrigue turned to anger, I realized how isn’t the question I should be asking.  

Ed School lecturer Tom Rose paints this picture of school: “It’s like an airplane: Sit down, strap in, don’t talk, look forward. Why would it be meaningful?” Is this what my classroom reminds you of? This picture disgusts me because in it, I am the pilot. While I can point the finger at disconnected district personnel, uneducated voters, ignorant upper-level decisions makers, greedy testing companies, your immature behavior, and whoever invented the inane six-period bell schedule we adhere so strictly to, none of those people are flying this plane. That’s all me.

Buckle up kids.  

I’m crash landing this baby on a desert island, and we are going to start over from scratch. Yes, I’m doing what every five-year-old does when they’re losing a game. Change the rules.

Instead of finding someone to blame by asking how did this happen, the question I must ask is, “What am I going to do tomorrow?” (Rose).

In doing so, I won’t complain about the players and rules of the game I have no control over. What I will do is focus on tomorrow. Tomorrow I can get us back on track. I’m holding the pen and the lesson plan book. I don’t need to wait for new bosses or standards or chromebooks or semesters. Tomorrow I can make learning meaningful.

“But what about parts of speech and reaching my book goal and being ready for the state test?”  

I can’t serve two masters.

Either we are a slave to the curriculum and tests or a slave to innovating how we learn. But I promise you, if you go with me down the path of innovation, the rest will take care of itself.

Because I am your teacher.

Statistically not all of you will graduate as a damaged byproduct of a  broken system. Some of you will leave feeling like strong, contributing members of society, and you’ll identify your schooling as the main contributing factor. What do all of you–the lost and the found–have in common? You all have teachers.

 While everything else in school is standardized–curriculum, objectives, policies, procedures, facilities, technology–the one variable is the teacher.  

I have the power to enable learning because of school, not in spite of it.

I’m sorry.

I buried that truth deep under my resentment and learned helplessness developed from years of working within a box I thought “the system” had trapped us in. The box is not a lie. But as you know, there’s a lot you can do inside of a box. And if it can be done, we’re going to do it.

Let’s Go,

Mrs. McMath


Couros, George and  Innovator’s Mindset (2015)

Rose, Todd

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