The first lesson for teachers

April 23, 2012

When I became a teacher, I thought my job was all about the lessons I needed to teach.

But really, the first lesson needed to learn was this:

If something in my class or in my school wasn’t working, I could not expect it to start to benefit my students and their learning unless I changed.

Not the kids.  Me. 

For some teachers, this lesson takes years to sink in.  Years of feeling like the kids hate you. Years of feeling like they are actually bad people, as opposed to people in process, like the rest of us.  Years of blaming parents.  Or the media.  Or “society,” which is forgetting an important truth:  as their teacher, I am their society.

When something isn’t working, I can change just about anything.  Change the seating arrangement.  Change the groups.  Change when homework is due.  Change the way I address the kids.  Change how I start class.  Or end it.

It is so easy to forget just how many things I can change.

Once I get up the courage to face that something isn’t working, then make the change, I look very carefully at the results.  I compare it against what came before.  I observe.  I seek to learn.  If it’s still not working, I change something else… hopefully this time, the right thing.

Eventually, I watch one of these changes ripple out in the form of learning.  I see smiles. Engagement.  I bathe in the experience of watching intense, beautiful, powerful learning unfold in the children who are my sacred responsibility.

Of course, change is only due when things are awry. Once something works in my classroom, it becomes the law.  The rule.  The way things work around here.  It’s the way we’ve always done things, and we do it because it works.

Until, once again, it doesn’t work anymore.  Then it’s back to the first lesson.

Back to change.



Stacia April 23, 2012 at 2:57 pm

” I bathe in the experience of watching intense, beautiful, powerful learning unfold in the children who are my sacred responsibility.”

Oh, how I wish this were etched in every teacher’s heart everywhere. Beautiful.

Justine April 23, 2012 at 4:46 pm

I absolutely agree with you here that quite simply, we must be the change we want to see. And I also think it applies to many instances, especially parenthood. I remember potty-training my daughter and being so frustrated with how she wasn’t responding to it, and I thought I would “change” her attitude towards it when really, it was changing my own that scored me a victory.

Thanks for sharing your lesson here, Launa. Indeed, a valuable one for all aspects of our life.

Heather Caliri April 23, 2012 at 6:16 pm

It’s so hard to be humble enough to change in those circumstances, no? I homeschool my kid, and so often when things aren’t working I want to ram the learning through, instead of changing (perspective, timing, curriculum, tools, attitude, myself) and letting her guide me. Learning as ballroom dancing, not marching…

alita April 23, 2012 at 6:26 pm

I enjoyed this. You said what you needed to say in a very concise way. It was to the point and through. Your writing is spot on and easy to read. Thank you for sharing your ever changing ways. I enjoyed coming here today.


Cathy April 23, 2012 at 7:26 pm

It’s such an important lesson. So often people feel they are victims when they have the power to make their own change.

Kelly April 23, 2012 at 9:19 pm

I bet your students’ parents love you! I love this philosophy of figuring out what works versus barrel forward with a plan simply because you made it, even if no one’s benefiting. Brava!

Liz April 23, 2012 at 9:54 pm

Great thought…I am a fourth grade teacher and am in my 16th year of teaching. Sometimes, I forget this!

Rudri Bhatt Patel @ Being Rudri April 24, 2012 at 12:11 am

I love the idea of visualizing what you want to see and experience. And to be not only willing, but able to execute the path in getting there. Nice to “meet” you.

Pepca April 24, 2012 at 7:30 am

Yes to this! I’m a teacher (although I am currently not teaching ) and I cannot possibly express how much I agree with you. I should print and frame this post and put it on the wall to remember these things in those time when my evil twin wins and I become the hating kind of a teacher. Because I admit I am guilty of that sometimes. Thanks so much for this!

Jen @ Momalom April 24, 2012 at 2:07 pm

And that’s just it, isn’t it? We change, we get used to the change, and we need to change again. Everything is in flux all the time, even when it feels like it isn’t. Hmm… On another note, your students are lucky to have you. Thanks for linking up!

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