Teacher Happiness #SOL17

In December 2001, back before my curricular units were all planned out prior to the school year starting, created by others and not me; back before "I can" statements were anything I knew; back before teacher evaluations were based on the Danielson Rubric and being deemed "highly effective" was synonymous to the Holy Grail, I was a first year teacher, teaching sixth grade in an elementary school. Back then, one of the subjects I taught was "Language Arts" and aside from the New York State Standards at the time, there wasn't a whole lot of direction in what I should be teaching. While that was disconcerting for a first year teacher, it was also freeing. Here is what my sixth graders did in December 2001:

Each student was part of a group. The assignment was to make your own toy or game. It could be based on a real game, like Monopoly, but redone with your own categories and questions. Students had to create the game and write the directions for how you play it. The next step was to sell the game using persuasive techniques. We studied what advertisers do to sell products and students were asked to come up with a commercial for their toy. We invited the other 6th grade classes to watch our toy commercials in the small gym, where each group performed. 

This was before technology was more than an overhead projector and it was before the makerspace movement, before words like "innovation" were common in schools. But, looking back, I think there was a lot of good in this project. December is a busy, exciting, and off-schedule month with many assemblies, parties, concerts, etc. This unit capitalized on kids' excitement in December with a focus on toys, persuasive language, creativity, presentation, and collaboration. 

This project came to mind as I've been considering the idea of Teacher Happiness. I've been following along with Matt Miller's Ditch That Textbook Ditial Summit. On Saturday, I watched the Science of Happiness . There were so many points and takeaways, but at one point the conversation turned to teachers accepting being "effective" over "highly effective" if it meant more time with family and better mental health and well-being. As I watched this, I wondered, "When did teaching become a profession where you can never be considered highly effective?" Why do you have to settle for being "effective" to be able to also be a good parents and not be completely run down? 

I know my first two paragraphs don't really match my last two, but I guess they connect for me around teacher happiness. When I had more freedom to plan curricular units, it was exciting. I loved finding ways to plan motivating and meaningful lessons for my students. We put the Greek God Zeuss on trial that year. I had a "cookies and conversation cafe" at reading time so kids could pick discussion items off a menu while they ate cookies. We made class books of our personal narratives. I looked for ways to integrate multiple intelligences and make learning come alive. It also felt like I was trusted to make decisions about what my students needed. 

The other piece of teacher happiness is feeling like I was good at what I do. While there is always room to grow, it was knowing that I was a teacher having a positive impact. With the Danielson rubric now used for teacher evaluations, it feels like I'm never good enough. Like I could work round the clock every day of the week and still not be deemed "highly effective." And it doesn't feel happy to know that. I'm someone who has always sought to be excellent. As a student, as a student teacher, as a teacher- I want to be my very best. So to accept that I'm never going to be considered highly effective is disheartening, and it makes me put less stock in a system that rates me that way. 

What are your feelings about teacher happiness? 


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