“I’m nervous because I want to be excited!”

roller coaster ride
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The title of this post is a direct quote from one of my younger students on our first day of the school year, and it also embodies exactly how I felt as the teacher in the room. I disentangled myself from the public school system last year to embark on a new chapter of teaching at Knoxville Innovation School, a small progressive, student-centered private school and a completely different educational paradigm. My seven years in the public education system conditioned me in many ways, not all of them healthy or helpful, so as my students are learning this year, I will be doing my own share of unlearning. Unlearning and unblocking will help me go from nervous to excited, hopefully for good.

“Bell to bell” is an expression I heard a lot as a public school teacher, and the urgency it suggests has stuck with me. I have always been driven to be good at things as quickly as possible, even things as multi-faceted and complicated as teaching. The educational field is definitely one that benefits from teachers with a love of learning and the ability to adopt a beginner’s mindset, so my urgency to “master” teaching is counterintuitive to the learning process. But I am who I am, so I tend to overplan lessons and then rush through them, not truly in the present moment, and definitely not truly responsive.

My best lessons by far are the ones where I actually let the students lead me off the beaten path and authentic learning magically happens. In those moments, I go from being the expert in the room to being a facilitator and a fellow learner. For example, one year when I was teaching figurative language, students started throwing out examples from their favorite song lyrics. The discussion veered, and suddenly, they were begging me to do a group project where they identify and explain figurative language examples from school-appropriate songs. That was and is now one of my most engaging ELA lessons, and I have the students to thank. It can be especially difficult to remind myself about these improvisational moments when I’m crafting the perfect lesson, but I believe my new school environment will help me remember to remember more.

As thrilled as I’ve been to jump into this new educational paradigm that honors and encourages imagination, flexibility, and creativity, I overplanned and rushed through my first day of school. Don’t get me wrong-the students had a great day and didn’t want to leave. We did some mindful movement, created class agreements, organized work spaces, and tried out supplies. But because of my fabricated urgency, I didn’t savor every moment and rushed more than I wanted to. I was still stuck in that previous, hectic pace, and until that moment, I didn’t realize what an ingrained habit it was. Afterward (as I was worrying about how to overplan the following day), my administrators/friends offered me love, support, and choices about how to go forward in a less stressful way. We decided “bell to bell” may work in other schools, but we’re going to try a “breath to breath” strategy.

“Breath to breath” means that there is ALWAYS time to stop and regroup. It implies that learning can look like many different things, and that there can be (and should be) multiple right answers. “Breath to breath” encourages me to combine the magical and the mundane right in front of me to see what’s best for me and the students right now. It suggests that sometimes community-building and learning can happen at a slower, more deliberate pace, like a blooming flower. It invites the unexpected to emerge. “Breath to breath” makes space for possibilities, loving-kindness, patience, and joy in the classroom. I am looking forward to teaching breath to breath today.

One thought on ““I’m nervous because I want to be excited!”

  1. Mrs. Hill, I love your blog. I hope you love your new school so much! I miss you! – Maclain Turner 💕

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