“Have I chosen the wrong profession? Why am I so angry all the time? I don’t even like these kids! No one listens to me.” Each of these thoughts crossed my mind more than once as I approached the end of my 8th year of teaching. I didn’t know that what I was experiencing even had a name: Burnout. I always thought the teachers who quit their jobs couldn’t hack it, weren’t cut out to be teachers or thought it was going to be one thing and discovered it wasn’t about having the summers off. And then I found myself standing at the threshold of quitting. Was I a failure? Had I somehow been a hypocrite to think that I could never be like those other teachers? All I knew was that I felt empty; empty of passion, empty of joy, empty of care, and empty of compassion. It was at this point that I went to my administrators to request a meeting. I was going to quit. I remember thinking, “This is not what I signed up for.”
I was lucky enough to have administrators that saw more in me than I did. When I told them that my eighth year would be my last year, my superintendent smiled and calmly said, “Breathe.” She and my principal said that they were not going to let me quit. That was not the response I had expected. I told them what I was doing in the classroom was not having an impact on my students. They didn’t care, and I couldn’t give more than I was already giving. My principal had said, “But you are a teacher!” My frustration was that I was giving my all, but I was getting nothing in return. I was told to find a different way to teach. I had no idea what that meant, but I didn’t have anything to lose. So I searched for new and innovative teaching methods. The first thing that turned up was Flipped Learning. The more I read about it, the more it made sense.
When I reached my burnout, I had been doing everything that I knew how to do, everything I had been taught to do, and even some things that I thought were pretty innovative. Flipped Learning was the opposite of all those things. It didn’t make sense to my pedagogy, but it made sense to my heart. I cannot explain the peace that it brought to my frustration, anger, defeatedness, and exhaustion. For eight years I had stood in front of my students and told them everything they needed to know. I was burning myself out by doing all the work. I was giving everything, and my students were not required to give anything beyond taking notes and responding on a test. Truly, what I was doing was not what I had signed up for. I got into education because I wanted to inspire students, work with students, and influence them to discover a love for learning and I was succeeding in none of those.
When I flipped my class, my purpose in the classroom shifted, and my mission as a teacher was refined. I had to let go of my old pedagogy and allow myself to be renewed, and renewed I was. My students became the focus of my classroom. For eight years, I thought my students were my focus, but what I had to realize was that my vision was out of focus. My students were in my classroom, but they were not active participants in their learning. Though they were the receivers of what I was communicating, they were not doing anything with the knowledge. I had viewed them as empty vessels that needed to be filled. Flipping my class provided me with the vision to see that they were not a vessel that needed to be filled, rather they were the architects that needed to construct. I wanted my students to get the most from my classroom, so my decision to flip my class was a decision to see beyond my circumstance and develop a new vision for my students and my classroom.
I combined my newfound understanding of Flipped Learning with a learning approach that was completely student-centered, Project Based Learning (PBL). I will never forget when I had the conversation with my students that we were going to be doing school differently than anything they had ever experienced. I told them that they were going to use their interests and their passions to design their own projects. I could start to see their mental wheels spinning (First sign that flipping was going to be great for my soul). Then my students started in with the questions, “You mean I get to use things like Minecraft for my project?” To which I replied, “Yes.” “So, you mean, I get to play Minecraft in class as long as it is my project?” Again, with a smile, I replied, “Yes.” “This is so cool, Mr. Jones!” (Second sign that flipping was going to be great for my soul: student buy-in).
The next school year, I had a student who was so proud of her work that she couldn’t wait to share it with me (Third sign: Student ownership of the learning process). It was our introductory project assignment. Students have to create a project about themselves. This particular student was timid and reserved. What she showed me was unlike anything I had ever seen. She had made a flower arrangement and each flower was specifically designed to speak to different interests or experience. I saw the power of Flipped Learning, and I was experiencing first-hand the effect it was having on my heart for my students. Seeing them get excited about the opportunity to take ownership of their learning and the dramatic impact it had on them as individuals were like oxygen to my flame.
So the question becomes, “Did Flipped Learning cure my burnout?” YES! As educators, we love kids, and we want to do right by them. Outside of Flipped Learning, we are competing for the attention of our students, and striving for our students to master content, for our students to demonstrate a passion for learning, but this competition and fruitless striving ends in resentment and frustration. Educators are continuously fighting an uphill battle, and burnout happens when we have given all we can give, feel like we are hopeless and empty of purpose. Flipped Learning brings peace to our teaching and to our professional lives. It is not that we will not have difficult days, but we know that we already have victory over our circumstances. Because our vision and purpose have changed, we can see past our circumstance. Moving from a teacher-centered classroom to one that is completely focused on students allows teachers to engage with students as real individuals. A student-centered classroom enables us to experience the joy that brought us into the profession in the first place.