Why I left the classroom (+ how I'm a better teacher because of it)

Aug 29, 2018

I've been doing a lot of thinking about our learners these days.  As teachers, we strive to make an impact on their lives by pointing them in the direction of their future.  Now maybe it's just me, but the more I think and the more I dig, I'm beginning to feel like we're failing to hit this mark in the traditional classroom setting.

(Like...something's got to give type-of-feels.)

In the days leading up to my decision to leave the classroom (AKA '2nd biggest heartbreak of my life'), I felt like I could’ve taught writing until my face turned blue, but it wouldn't necessarily mean that my students were going to apply these principles beyond the paper-pencil exam we were prepping for...or past the handful of college essays they'd go on to write for the application process or as part of their 'intro to comp' classes.

...and I definitely didn't like that feeling...

That my blood, sweat and tears would only carry them as far as a lifeless essay lost on the collegiate battlefield.  That this Herculean effort would never breathe life into their first, published work (since we were moving too fast to worry about that).

That it would never help them raise money for a cause, or write killer sales copy, or curate blog posts that shared their passions with the world (because point blank: that stuff just wasn't going to be on the exam).

I knew I was a good teacher, and I knew I was giving it all that I had.  Heck, I even knew that my students really. did. like me. But I also knew there had to be a better way (precisely because I liked them back!).  

So I left, in part, to take on that demon, that something was (deeply) missing from the way I teach.  And after a lot of thinking, digging, and straight-up recalibrating, I feel like I'm finally emerging as a better educator because of it.  

Now trust me when I say this, you certainly don't need to quit your job tomorrow and contemplate the State of Education.  Or ask for infinite sabbatical until you overhaul your unit plans entirely. That's not what this post is about.

But I can bet my lunch on it, you're always looking for ways to step up your instruction, to connect with your students on a deeper level, and to feel like you’ve moved a mountain in a single lesson (in large part, because it took that kind of strength to create it in the first place!).

What this post *is* about is spreading the encouragement that there is more out there for our students, and that we can shift the paradigm one classroom at a time by giving them authentic learning experiences that go beyond the mere core.

Truth be told, it's always a teacher's aim to give our students 'the world', but the scary part is, we don't even know what kind of world that will be in just a few years worth of time (thanks a lot, exponential growth in innovation...).

Over half the jobs our students will go on to occupy *don't even exist* yet.  (In fact, they'll be the ones creating them!)

And they won't be settling in to their 'forever jobs' either, like we did (#teacherforlife); instead, they'll be changing jobs every 5 to 7 years...the rise of the 'gig economy' is evidence of that alone.

More and more, today's young professionals are finding interest in not just working from anywhere and on their own time; they're also looking for something that sets their soul on fire.  More than ever, they want a position that holds purpose in their lives, a goal that is just as (if not more!) important than the paycheck itself...

Chris, a former student of mine, is now a young entrepreneur out there in that great, big world of ours (sigh...they grow SO fast!).  Recently, he posted this on a professional media platform I follow him on:

Today's schools aren't serving tomorrow's leaders
Today's schools aren't serving tomorrow's leaders

It was like his words turned that mental demon of mine into a living, breathing creature.  (I can't believe I'm going to say this, but...the struggle *is* real!)

So I picked up the phone.  And I called another former student, a girl I had in one of my advanced classes years back.  I asked: 'to what extent would you say your academic experiences (high school and college) paved the way for who you are now as an entrepreneur?'

Her response? It gave her knowledge 'just in case' she needs it.  But it gave her zero application: '...and jobs want you to be able to start producing, like now.' 

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Trouble is, schools across the nation are plugging out more passive, content consumers these days than we are active producers.  (Take it as a case in point if your kids have ever asked you to 'just give [them] the answer!')

The findings I've casually stumbled upon, in both data and stories, have put me on a 'don't look back, you're not going that way' path to seek better answers for our learners today, those who are undoubtedly the innovators of tomorrow.  

How can we make learning a more authentic experience for our students?  How can we make it real enough to apply to the real world and to their future selves?  

You might be thinking, 'everything I teach does apply to the real world, du-uh!'  I hear you, brother. I taught my students how to research, how to sniff out fake news, how to conduct an interview.  I taught them to respect others and themselves, to share and always be kind.  Just like I would (and have) my own kid(s).

Don't get me wrong, they do learn with us, but I also think there's truth in saying that plenty of our students go on to college without the ability to creatively problem-solve, or to speak their minds while simultaneously listening to others.  Worse yet, they end up in careers they haven't an ounce of heart for...

Bottom line: in a world that's got 99 problems (and not the kind that comes with a suggested answer key), tomorrow's leaders are going to need a very different set of skills than the ones we were taught.  

So I'm on a mission to teach writing in the 'realest' way I can, so that means planting traditional foundation at the base of authentic practices; the type of experiences where students 'do' more, take more risks, and fearlessly fail themselves forward in the name of learning and innovation.

And it's bid me to create Make Writing Real, a project wrought from this need to make learning more authentic in today's schools, and which starts with rethinking writing instruction as my own contribution to making that happen.  

If you are ready to be a part of this movement, or if you’re simply looking to refresh and level-up writing instruction in your classroom, CLICK HERE where you can find more information about this awesome opportunity.

With gratitude,


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