A Decade of Teaching

When I began teaching, the idea of being a classroom teacher for 10 years seemed like an important milestone. I believed 10 years in education meant that you had “made it” and knew what you were talking about. 10 is the number of completion. However, standing on the other side of those ten years has made me realize that I haven’t really completed anything.

In many ways, I feel so much more comfortable as a teacher. I understand that reaching your potential as a teacher isn’t necessarily about learning what is left to learn, but more about how receptive you are willing to be to learn how to best meet the needs of your students. Most of us like to believe that we are endlessly open-minded, but I think the truth is that we all are limited by:

  1. The ability to acknowledge that we have a comfort zone
  2. Where the boundaries of that comfort zone are
  3. Our willingness to expand those boundaries

Anyway, here are some reflections I’ve made as I’ve thought about my ten years:

  • When I began, I thought if I zeroed in on delivering content in an engaging way, the rest would take care of itself. I still believe this, but realize that all students experience trauma that is damaging relative to their unique experiences. Attending to those needs comes first, always.
  • I used to believe that if students saw me get angry every once in a while, that it would show them how much I care. All it really does is show them that you can get angry.
  • Making the decision a few years ago to not show anger in any way in the classroom was such an important change for me. I know my students notice it because they have made a lot of unprompted comments to me about it in their letters to me over the years.
  • When I began, I probably wouldn’t have wanted my defining characteristic to be that I was “nice.” Now I believe it is the greatest compliment a student can give me.
  • I really, really like teaching ELA. When I taught 3rd grade, it was the subject that inspired me on my way to school each morning. Being able to teach it all day in 4th grade has been a great motivator for me.
  • Teaching as a parent is a different ballgame. It’s helped me be more understanding of my students’ needs but it is also time-consuming (duh). It has made me more efficient and effective during the hours of the school day.

I have long-term goals that involve impacting students from outside of the classroom someday. However, as each year passes, I decide to let the grass grow under my feet in the classroom. For me, the excitement for next year’s class continues to outweigh the possibility of impacting students from outside the classroom. I suppose when it doesn’t, I’ll know it’s time to pursue those long-term goals. I look forward to learning the lessons of what the next 10 years bring for me and my students!


Teaching as a Parent is Hard (’nuff said)

Dear Teacher Blog,

As I’m sitting down and clearing some headspace to write this entry about the challenges of teaching as a new parent, I can literally see my son stirring in the baby monitor next to me on the couch. Feeding time. That usually wouldn’t be a relevant detail, but for this entry if will serve as a fine introduction. Guess we’ll try Take 2 later.

Clever introductions aside, it’s actually been over about a month since I’ve written the above paragraph. My point is this: ending a school year with an infant son is a whole lot different than being in the middle of the teaching grind with an 8 month old. Harrison’s growth from adorable, stationary newborn to adorable, mobile injury-waiting-to-happen has coincided with the time of the school year where everything seems to be piling up.

Since I’d like to move on to different blog topics in the near future, I’ll wrap this one up much more succinctly than I planned a month ago. I’ve been feeling a step behind lately, which is hard for me to accept. It’s not that I have ever been the kind of teacher to be planned for weeks in advance, but I’ve always prided myself in my ability to be able to adjust accordingly to the needs of my students. I feel like I am still able to do that, but boy, does it take more effort after Hurricane Harrison.

There have been a few bright spots professionally over the past few weeks that have helped energize me a little more. A few colleagues have randomly surprised me by going out of their way to recognize my contributions and share what my students think of me. Those recognitions were not necessary, but they came at a perfect time to help recharge my batteries as we dive deeper into a crazy time of the school year!



Educational Take-Aways from a Horror Movie Convention

Dear Teacher Blog,

I’ve had this past Saturday marked on my calendar for quite some time. For three months, my sister and I looked forward to going to the Monster Mania Con in Hunt Valley, MD. The whole trip was meant to be a total escape from my day to day responsibilities and a deep dive into my geekier tendencies as a child of the 80s. So why did I find myself thinking about teaching all weekend?

As I perused the stands and chatted with the vendors and filmmakers, I realized that each one of them was a risk taker. None of them waited for the instruction manual or for conditions to be perfect to create and sell their art. All of them took a leap and were building the airplane in mid flight. Many held down day jobs and were pursuing their art as a passion. One particular person’s passion was writing and illustrating spooky themed children’s books. He was there to self promote within a community of fans and fellow vendors. I couldn’t believe that amongst the movie-quality werewolf masks, plastic gore, and full body zombie costumes, there I was talking about children’s literacy with a legitimate children’s author who had gone through every step to be published. The whole experience left me oddly inspired to take more leaps both artistically and in education without the fear of looking silly or falling down.

Even as a child, I gobbled up all of the behind the scenes interviews I could find (you usually had to fast forward past the end credits for a few minutes) and was mesmerized by the depth of literary elements included in the subtext of these movies. As a young kid, listening to these men and women discuss their collaborative process was really my first exposure to the world of writing and academia. At the time, I was surprised that I understood some of the concepts and was determined to learn about the ones I didn’t know. To this day, I often find myself watching the special documentaries that come with movies and albums more than the actual product itself. I guess I would have to say that I believe process is important in education.

During a Q and A panel, an actor spoke of casting directors who often overlooked actors’ and actresses’ greatest potential strengths and instead cast them for what they were known for. He used his former roommate, Mark Hamill, as an example. Hamill is known worldwide as sci-fi hero Luke Skywalker, but according to his former roommate, Hamill’s greatest strength is his comedic ability, adding that he could go toe-to-toe with today’s greats. It made me wonder how many students I may have typecast into safe roles despite my best intentions to broaden the horizons of every child.

“It’s Halloween. I guess everyone’s entitled to one good scare.”


The First (and only?) Post

Dear Teacher Blog,

Disclaimer: this may be the only entry ever in this blog. I’ve tried blogging before with varying degrees of success: the Myspace days all the way through a few teacher blogs. For me, blogs usually start with a blaze of inspiration and then fizzle out after I start to feel that tinge of self-consciousness. Once I begin to ask the question, “Does anyone really want to read this?” it’s usually over. Add a 6 month old baby boy into the mix and you have an idea of the odds this start-up blog is up against. But for now, let’s embrace that blaze of inspiration and see where this takes us; rambling thoughts, grammatical errors, and all.

This is my 10th year of teaching elementary school, but my first year of teaching as a father. The lessons I learned during my very first year of teaching were practical enough: Trouble getting the class back on track after lunch? Greet them at the door with a smile and directions. Difficulty with in-class transitions? Start a fun call-and-response to get their attention. Need to set the class frog back into the wild? Don’t assume he will be okay after dropping him into a cold, shallow creek from a tall bridge in front of your entire class (maybe that’ll be my next entry).

Fast forward 9 years and my first year of teaching as a father is already filled with valuable lessons. While these lessons aren’t necessarily pedagogical, they are just as important. To give some background, I began my journey as a kinder, more super-chill Mr. Welty a few years ago when I decided to follow one simple rule: no yelling ever. It wasn’t so much that I yelled, but I could sense that students were misinterpreting my serious tone. I had too many memories of teachers “losing it” as a student and the more I taught, the more I realized that my teachers probably didn’t “lose it” as much as I had misunderstood them from my childhood point of view. I never wanted to be that memory for any of my students, so I changed.

That change has been affirmed ten-fold this year because now I am able to truly see each learner through the eyes of a parent. Having a child is kind of like having your heart beat outside of your body. A child means everything to his/her parent. Knowing this, my main objective is no longer only a narrow and persistent focus on building students’ critical thinking skills. Academics, behavior, or social skills, it’s all teaching and every piece is as important as the others. The idea of teaching The Whole Child is more than just a cute thought, it’s the driving force of my educational mission statement. I find myself wondering what me as a parent would think of me as a teacher during my first few years. I have a feeling it would go a little like this: “Stop trying to prove yourself and take it easy on these kids!”

This week has been one of the roughest throughout my 10 years. The school week began with the fog of personal pain. My wife and I had to give our beloved dog Carl back to the shelter we rescued him from because he was showing signs of aggression towards our son. The decision, in a sense, was easy: you have to protect your child. And while giving a dog back to the caring place you got him from might seem marginally sad, please keep in mind that to us, Carl was a Marley and Me caliber dog. We were the only home he knew and had him from the very beginning of our relationship. We seemed to be the only ones that understood his issues and showed him love no matter what. He was our disobedient, but loyal-to-us fur child. It hurt beyond words, but we had to make a tough decision for the safety of our son.

Now comes the perspective. Throughout the week, several much more devastating tragedies affected teachers and students throughout our building. Each day seemed to be filled with miserable news that made me feel slightly embarrassed about the pain I was feeling. My instincts told me that I had to swallow my sadness and step it up for my students.

However, I had a moment of clarity during a class read aloud of The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. When Morris has to leave the library of magic books he tells them that they will always be “in his heart.” Of course, this made me think of giving our dog back the night before. I broke down a little in front of my students, which I believe may be a first. I decided that instead of burying my feelings, I would be honest with them and share how the words had moved me and what was happening in my heart. I usually prefer to suffer privately, and certainly not in front of students. But I thought that in a week filled with tragedy, my students needed to see how grown ups deal with pain and that yes, 37 year old men are allowed to cry a little when they have to give their puppy back. I mean they are, aren’t they?

Luckily, the week ended on a positive with laughs in the library with friends. It was the kind of laughter that helped me close the door of a painful week and set the tone for coming back stronger for my students on Monday.

See you next time, or not. Hopefully any future posts will be shorter and sweeter.

Be Excellent to Each Other,

Mr. Welty