-by Dan Jones-
Thirteen years in the classroom has meant a lot of ups and downs, but what is needed in the difficult times is the support of other teachers. My journey is not my journey; it is only mine when I force others away and choose to be on my own. Teachers need each other if we are going to make it to retirement, and it is my hope that my experiences will enable me to support and walk alongside you through your ups and downs.
After my first seven years in a traditional classroom, I came to realize several things:
I hated my job.
This was not what I had signed up for.
I was ineffective.
I was depressed.
I was done.
Does that sound familiar? Liz Riggs, a writer for the Atlantic, interviewed Richard Ingersoll for her article titled “Why do teachers quit?” Ingersoll shares some fascinating statistics in his interview, such as 40%-50% of teachers quit by year five in their career and 9.5% leave the classroom before the end of their first year. He also shared that 15.7% of teachers quit the profession every year. What makes teaching so difficult that it produces these types of results? All I knew, though, was that I was ready to become one of those statistics, but why? Where did my passion go? What had changed?
The truth is that it was not one single thing that jaded me towards education, it was many things. The pressure of state testing, discipline issues, feeling overworked and underpaid, a lack of respect from my students and their parents, and a desire to be perfect without any chance of reaching perfection led me to become disappointed in myself and my students. I ran my passion into the ground and buried it six feet deep. I was taking papers and projects home every night to grade, and I was writing and rewriting lesson plans trying to create highly engaging lessons that I knew my students still wouldn’t care about. Talk about a recipe for a hopeless disaster. I felt as though I only had one option: quit.
I had already worked at four schools, always hoping that things would get better at the next one, but they didn’t. I knew it was time to find a new career. I started filling out applications for other professions. I went to my administrator and laid it on the line. I told her that I could not continue to teach. She sat me down and talked to me in the kindest way possible. After telling her that I could not go on teaching, she nodded and agreed. She said to me that I could not go on teaching…the way I was teaching. She told me that she was not going to let me quit and explained that I didn’t need to find a new job; I needed to find a new way to teach. It was at this point that I discovered Flipped Learning, and my passion was reignited.
After six more years of teaching, now in a flipped classroom, I am a changed teacher.
I LOVE MY JOB.
I am doing what I always wanted to do.
I have deep relationships with my students.
I am happy and energized.
I am passionate.
I am now more passionate than I ever was about teaching, and I look forward to going into work almost every day (every day would be a stretch, I am still human). Since that rock-bottom moment, I have presented at conferences about Flipped Learning and active classroom strategies, I have been included in Jon Bergmann’s book Flipped Learning Instruction for Social Studies, I became a master flip educator and a member of the International Faculty of trainers through FLGI; I also wrote a book this year about Flipped Learning and Project Based Learning. So how did I go from wanting to be done entirely as a teacher to where I am now? Two words: Flipped Learning. Can it really resuscitate a lifeless career? Without a doubt, yes!
1. I was able to do what I had always wanted to do: work with kids.
I got into teaching because I enjoyed working with kids and I wanted to make a difference. Apparently, I am not alone in my reasoning. Published in The Guardian’s article Five top reasons people become teachers- and why they quit, The Association of Teachers and Lecturers took a survey of 858 educators and asked educators why they became teachers: 80% say because they enjoy working with children and young people, and 75% said that they wanted to make a difference. Traditional instructional practices reduce a teacher’s direct interaction with every single student. Flipped Learning helped me to get in and work beside my students, learn with them, talk to them, and grow with them. Flipped Learning makes building individual relationships with your students easy, whereas, in a traditional classroom, it is hard to see the impact we are having on students if we do not get close enough for them to see it.
2. I gave my students choice.
Teachers are not doctors, but I had been pretending to be one in my classroom. I prescribed the same education to ALL of my students. Talk about malpractice. Imagine if a doctor prescribed the exact same medication as well as having the same consultations with all of her patients regardless of the patient’s illness. It was no wonder I felt ineffective in my classroom. When I flipped my class, though, I saw my students as individuals instead of seeing the content I had to teach as one size fits all. My focus shifted. It wasn’t about pushing an agenda (curriculum), but my attention moved to growing my students through choice (meeting each student’s needs).
English Language Quarterly published an article by Keri Skeeters, Bridget Campbell, Andrea Dubitsky, Elizabeth Faron, Kelly Gieselmann, Deborah George, Brooke Goldschmidt, Erica Wagner titled The Top Five Reasons We Love Giving Students Choice in Reading. In this article, they discuss how choice improved not only the students’ enjoyment of the class, but it also impacted the teacher as well. When students feel valued, trusted to make an educational decision, and empowered to be an individual, they pour more into their work. Their efforts also have an effect on the social-emotional needs of the teacher. Giving students a choice in how they approached the content gave me a resuscitated purpose for coming into the classroom. I wanted to see what amazing things my students were going to do with the content.
Flipping my class gave me the time and freedom to not only allow for student choice but to encourage it. It was the epitome of differentiation, and now I had the time to do it well. Seeing a child light-up because they get to use their interests, passions, and gifts in the classroom is true nourishment to the educator’s soul.
3. I was not grading at home.
A valuable lesson I learned was that not everything needed grading or should be graded. Traditionally, if I assigned it, I thought I needed to grade it. This meant that there was always a pile of things to grade. I was overwhelmed. When I flipped my class, I also flipped my perspective on grading. I began to assess my students’ overall growth and mastery of each unit’s learning objectives. That may seem like a “duh” concept, but before flipping my class, I looked at hundreds of answers to questions, figured out the percentage that my students got correct, and that was their grade. I was not focused on whether or not the students were learning a specific standard or if they were showing growth. I didn’t give students a chance to grow in their mastery of content standards. I graded them every step of the way, and if they struggled at the beginning, then their grade was doomed.
Flipping my class meant that I was doing less grading and more informal assessment. I wrote about my shift in grading in an article titled Grading Students: Changing the rules, finding the balance. This changing in grading philosophy meant that I wasn’t taking piles of work home to grade. I was able to have a home-life. I was able to play with my children, and become re-energized for my next day. It was as though an enormous weight had been removed from around my neck and I was able to breathe.
4. I was collaborating with other teachers and professionals.
I know that one of the issues that put me into a pit of despair was my ego. I was approaching teaching as more of a competition than anything else. I wanted to be the best, perfect and admired by my peers. This perspective was toxic and crushed my ability to be any of those things. It actually created animosity, depression, and apathy. I was working alone because my ego put me in a corner. I couldn’t see those around me that could help or wanted to help. I wanted to be able to take full credit for my successes. The truth is I was putting myself in a position to take full credit for destroying my career.
I had to get knocked on my back so that I could finally look up and see the hands that were being extended to me. As I began to grab onto those hands, I learned that this is a job that cannot be done alone. An online publication called In Perspective published a discussion guide for collaboration. Within that publication, it talks about goals. It looks at the impact that collaboration can have on school climate specifically for teachers. When teachers work together to improve education, everyone benefits. Teaching in isolation is not healthy, and actually produces a toxic school culture. When teachers collaborate, they no longer feel alone. Again, kind of a “duh” moment, but I began to realize that I wasn’t the only teacher that was struggling. I was able to learn from and lean on others that carried more experience and wisdom than me. Collaboration became the support I needed to stand up strong and approach every new day with confidence. I knew I didn’t have to be perfect; I just needed to be open to growing as an educator.
5. I was supported by my administration, parents, and students.
Before I flipped, I felt like each day I was walking into battle. I knew my enemy, and they were 12-14 years old. Everything I did in my class did not resonate with my students, no matter how cool or exciting; they would rather ignore me, play too cool for school, or see how angry they could make me. Getting students and their parents to see value in what my traditional classroom offered was a constant uphill battle. I would assign work, and it wouldn’t get done, and to top it off the parents would not hold their own kids accountable for doing the work. I was at a loss.
In my book, Flipped 3.0 Project Based Learning: An Insanely Simple Guide, I have a chapter dedicated to administrators. In it, I address that my administrators supported my decision to flip my class because the research supported it. My administrator, Sandra Sutherland, stated, “Flipped Learning would teach students to take ownership of their learning and, therefore, help them become lifelong learners.” Knowing that your administrators have your back regarding your instructional approach is HUGE.
Flipping my class took the traditional homework part of the equation out and replaced it with something rather simple, and what was even better was that the parents of my students loved it. Because I was having students watch my lecture at home, that meant that the parents no longer had to be the teacher at home. So much of the animosity that I got from parents was a result of them feeling like they had to do my job by tutoring, coaching and helping my students learn my material at home. Time and time again, I have parents come to me and ask if they can watch the videos with their child. They never really know what their child is working on in school and the videos allow them to know precisely what is being taught. Bringing parents into the classroom in this way meant that I had their support. The expectations for the class were more apparent to them, and due to that transparency, I was no longer an enemy, but I became an ally.
My students became energized because of the simple fact that they were not being lectured at for hours on end. They now got to do school, and what was even better, they were given choice in how they wanted to do it.
To say that Flipped Learning will heal the social-emotional wounds of traditional education may be a bit of a stretch, but it is fair to say that this meta-strategy allows you to heal naturally. It helped me to refocus and see that there is a better way of meeting not only the needs of my students, but it provided me with a light to get out of a very dark traditional classroom. And it can do the same for you. Don’t stop teaching… just stop teaching traditionally.