As another school year is winding down nation-wide, we thought it was perfect timing to highlight a teacher because teachers change the world every day with their dedication in the classroom. We love the attitude of Rachael, our blogger below who just finished her first year with Teach For America. In the face of feeling like she was failing, she continued to walk into the classroom every day strong and determined to learn the very lesson she was hoping to instill in her students.
In my classroom, the start of the school year commences with a week of team-building, character-strengthening, goal-setting activities. I spend the week getting to know my kids, using their responses to my “corny” activities as a gauge for the role they’ll play in my classroom. One of the most important lessons we talk about, and one that I hammer home throughout the year (usually on days when I’m frustrated by cheating students), is growth mindset. It’s one of those hot buzzwords that you hear tossed around by educators alongside phrases like “data-driven instruction” and “project-based learning.”
Simplified, it’s the idea that just because you’re bad at math today, doesn’t mean that you’ll never be good at it. You can learn anything. You can be good at anything. Carol Dweck, the psychologist who originated the phrase, explains its significance in her TED talk here.
It’s critical for students to embody a growth mindset in order for them to succeed in an academic context. It encompasses the idea of welcoming failure, learning from mistakes, and refusing to give up. It’s everything I want my students to embody when they encounter a challenge in my class, or anywhere else in their lives.
I explain to them that I understand that growth mindsets don’t come easily, because I battle my own fixed mindset everyday.
I came into Teach for America seated upon a pile of successes. I had a great GPA, a sparkling resume, and I was accepted into TFA at the end of my junior year. I had limited experience with failure - an almost-failed class in high school, a failed relationship, and that’s about it. This was until I, a 23-year old art history major with zero education experience, walked into a classroom of high school juniors to teach them algebra 1.
Everyday was a battle. I struggled to keep them engaged. I struggled to keep them quiet. I struggled to explain the material. More or less, I struggled with every aspect of the job. I didn’t know how to talk to parents, or to lesson plan, or to relate with students, or to make a final exam. I failed hard, and I failed often.
It is incredibly challenging to wake up everyday to go to a job that you’re pretty sure you’re not good at. It takes something extra to walk back into the classroom of students that told you the day before that “you better not fail them because we haven’t done anything in this class all year.” It is a battle not to give up when you teach and teach and teach, only for everyone (yes, everyone) to fail the test.
It takes a growth mindset not to quit. I have spent the past year consciously telling myself that it gets better. I will get better at this. I will figure this out.
I definitely do not have this whole teaching thing figured out, but I know that I’m closer now than I was six months ago. I know that next year won’t be perfect, but I know that I’ll take every mistake and learn from it. I know that the only thing that will get me through today is the belief that if I learn from yesterday, tomorrow will be better.
Written By, Rachael Abram (in photo below)
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