Shifting Focus

I spotted a line in an article on education careers today that expressed my struggle in teaching since I became a mom. From a HuffPost Education article: “You will have early days and you will need to be present. There is little flexibility in your schedule.”

That lack of flexibility has been one of my largest hurdles to overcome as a teacher. I love teaching, I chose the career after working in software for a few years, because I wanted my work to matter. I wanted the personal connections with students, I wanted to prepare them to be productive adults in our society. For the first few years of teaching, I did all the Things. I taught, planned, marked, decorated the classroom, coached the teams, led the clubs, attended the plays concerts celebrations assemblies. I was Present. The fact that the salary didn’t reflect the hours never mattered to me because my work mattered.

And then I became a mother and found that my focus shifted. My children became my focus, and all the things that comprise the periphery of teaching suddenly were just peripheral noise. They still mattered, but I had to learn to prioritize. One fact of parenthood is that you can’t do all the Things. You pick the important things and let some other things go (like reading every single tweet, as Carolyn recently learned).

I still love teaching, love having a job that matters, I crave the lightbulb moments, enjoy designing opportunities to learn and then watching my plan unfold in student understanding. My goal is to find the sweet spot that allows me to excel in this role as teacher while not detracting from my role as a parent. I need tools that help students become more responsible and independent, tools like Blackboard where they can find materials and resources. I need tools that help students with their understanding when they can’t find me in person – tools like the Khan Academy. And I need tools that solve that problem of flexibility – so that I can still teach, still deliver meaningful lessons, even when I can’t be Present.

Cohort21 is my opportunity to explore my options for using technology to find that balance. In this age of working from home, mobile offices, and google hangouts, can we not also upgrade the classroom experience? Is a mixed model of synchronous and asynchronous learning possible? Would more students be able to take Higher Level Math if they could “attend” lessons despite being away for extracurricular activities? Can I extend such a model to a larger classroom? These are the avenues of innovation that I want to explore – not just new tools and new technology for the sake of “digitizing” everything, but tools and technology that change the way we approach teaching and learning.

4 Replies to “Shifting Focus”

  1. Finding that balance is a tricky one. I think everyone has to do the best they can with the time they have. I know the way I spend my prep time at school has changed drastically since becoming a parent, and I try to look ahead to find the best times to get the important things done. Good luck with the balancing act, Ruth!

  2. You are hitting on a theme that we all, in different ages and stages struggle with. I am one of the older, more experienced teachers at my school, and one of a small percentage with a family as well.

    I’ve learned what technology works for me, and what tools work for my students as well. But this is just the tip of the iceberg in the larger context on of the educational landscape.

    This article isn’t directly related, but it touches on how BLENDED LEARNING is DISRUPTING education – and this, I believe will really change the concept of flexibility in our timetables, accessiblity and working hours.

    Enjoy: : http://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelhorn/2013/05/30/data-support-disruption-theory-as-online-blended-learning-grows/

  3. Even though I don’t have children yet, my heart resonates with your challenges here. This is only my 4th year teaching and I have only now felt like I don’t have to spend hours and hours outside of school prepping, marking, and furiously emailing. It’s a demanding role.

    My research last year about all about flipped learning, which I noticed PROFOUNDLY changed the time I had in class with my students. It was a game changer for me and has had a dramatic impact on how I consider my role as a teacher (if a computer can administer a spelling test, why on earth would I use my talents and skills to do this?).

    This is the final blog post I made last year about my flipped learning: http://cohort21.com/ckirsh/2013/04/14/my-flipped-learning-2/

  4. I don’t have children either but I sympathise with your challenges. Finding balance has been a struggle for me all my life – I tend to be “all or nothing” in so many areas of my life – case in point Cohort 21 where I have been conspicuous in my absence the past 2 weeks because I had too much else on the go. I actually sat down and in my planning book I wrote down times during the week to check in with Cohort/ Twitter/ Diigo etc… so it becomes a habit and one I work on at work instead of letting it spill over into my life. Technology can be all consuming so part of my Cohort journey this year will be finding balance in a 24/7 world. Happy to be on the journey with you too!

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