Some doubt that more than others. In fact, some of the best teachers believe that they are failures, and wonder if they even should be in the profession at all.
I stake no claim for being a great teacher; I've never been happy with the job I'm doing in my classroom. For years, I've masked it with a completely fictitious act of over-confidence or with a tendency towards perfectionism (the socially acceptable form of always feeling not-quite-good-enough). But deep down, it's there. Lurking, rearing up whenever I feel most vulnerable.
It's the blessing and curse of the reflective teacher: you are always thinking about how to make your classroom better, but you're always struck by just how far you have to go before you are where you want to be. It's an exhausting place to be in, emotionally, physically, and professionally.
And while I don't trust teachers who say their class is perfect, I also don't trust teachers who say they are doing a bad job. Because here's the thing:
Learning is messy. Teaching is messy. Life is messy.
When we hide that, we hide the reality of who we are and what we do. In a weird way, we have to show how much of a mess we are to show what a good job we're actually doing. And in a flipped class, if your class is not a little chaotic then it's not truly student-centred.
Part of the partnership Andrew and I have built is on the premise that we never "hide the mess" - from each other or from our students. We believe that it's essential to show students how we fail and then try again and then fail again and then eventually (maybe) succeed. We want them to see us fail because it shows them how NORMAL it is, and that the acceptable response is not to give up, but to get up. To slip and not be buried. To fight and not be defeated.
In any educational movement, including the flipped class movement, there are people held up as "experts," but here's what I have learned: there are no experts. We are all constantly learning, and if we stop learning, we stagnate. And if we stagnate, we become irrelevant and ineffective...which is death to the classroom, and certainly does not an expert make.
While I see the value in there being people who are willing to put their information out there (I am a blogger who claims to know something about teaching in a flipped English class, after all), I think it's also vital to stop perpetuating the myth that they are (and I am) doing an amazing job and should be revered and held in awe.
Put even more bluntly: if you don't show me your mess, I'll assume you're lying or irrelevant. Because the mess is there, whether I can see it or not.
Some of us have been lucky enough to have had some of the mess cleaned up by years at good schools. That's where I'm coming from. I went from being a broken teacher, disillusioned with teaching and with everything that wasn't about the relationship between me and my students, to someone who was suddenly a valued and respected colleague. It helped me clean up my metaphorical living room, even if the rest of my house was still a mess.
But San Lorenzo was the school that taught me how much I had to give and how much I actually stole from my colleagues by not sharing with them. It was there that I first learned that in the act of sharing your curriculum, you actually are sharing your mess alongside your ideas. And when it isn't thrown back in your face, but rather taken and made better just by the act of sharing and collaboration, you start to wonder why you held back for so long.
There is a concept very close to my heart that drives at this same idea. It derives from the Bantu word, "ubuntu." It is the South African driving principle that affirms that, "I am who I am because we are." People are people THROUGH other people. There is no such thing as being alone. We are all interconnected, and as such, we must act accordingly. We may not see the ties that bind us together, but that doesn't mean that they are not there.
In America, we've never really had this concept, let alone valued it the way my South African friends do. In fact, it's so foreign to us that we are genuinely surprised when people make choices that are not in their own self-interest. And yet, according to ubuntu, acting in the interest of others IS acting in self interest, because when someone else is exalted or esteemed, we all are exalted and esteemed.
On the flip side, when one teacher is disillusioned and broken, we are ALL disillusioned and broken.
And that is the state most of us are in. Is it any wonder that schools are so broken and students are so disillusioned?
And yet. By showing all of you the mess underneath my thin veneer of competence, I'm hoping to give you some hope that by embracing the mess that is our lives and profession, we can become something better together than we can alone.
Andrew and I named this blog Ion Lucidity, partially as a joke.
But we were recording a few nights ago, and suddenly, it didn't feel like a joke anymore. As weird as this sounds, it became the exact phrase we needed to explain what had happened in a single moment.
I'll back up a little bit.
We had spent hours planning a complicated shoot that included topics on which neither of us are experts. When we started filming, my physical exhaustion and his mental exhaustion was palpable. I can hardly watch the footage because of how present that exhaustion is.
After about 20 minutes, we did our typical stop and check-in to see what else we still needed to cover. And we did something that we do far more than work: we just talked as friends. It was an attempt, for a few minutes at least, to try to hold on to our last bit of sanity. Through that conversation, it became clear we needed to start the recording over from the beginning (this is something that happens regularly in our partnership...which explains the many, many 13 GB Camtasia files on my hard drive).
So we started over. And that's when it happened: we reached Ion Lucidity. The ethereal moment when we went from exhaustion to clarity, solely through the act of conversation and collaboration.
Here is something I know: We are so much better together than we are alone. By working together, we have ideas that are better than any either of us had alone. It starts from incoherent rambling and flowers into something neither of us expected or imagined.
And not only are we lucky enough to work with each other, we have been so fortunate as to find other like-minded educators to share our mess with us.
But what I barely understand is that they care so much that they refuse to leave it that way. They jump in and help figure out how to make the mess visible, and by doing so, exorcise it for good. To loosely quote the Avett Brothers, they love me for the person I'll become, not the person that I am. That is something beautiful and incomprehensible.
Here is something else I know: the only word other than Ion Lucidity that makes this concept make sense is ubuntu.
And here is what I believe more than anything: There is a magical quality to collaboration that allows you to be so much greater than the sum of your parts. It allows you to see what was obscured when you tried to view it alone. It pushes you beyond where you could ever imagine going. It supports you when you feel like you will be crushed under the self-doubt and failure. It reminds you that you are never a failure...it is just your mess becoming visible.
And it is there that we are most powerful: When your mess is visible to the world, people recognise their own mess in the midst of yours and it becomes okay to show theirs too. And by the simple act of sharing, you are living ubuntu; the ties that bind you to everyone else go from being invisible to being so obvious you wonder how you've missed them for so long.
And you wonder how you ever lived without seeing them, because your life is so much more rich and full than you could have ever imagined.
Call it collaboration, call it Ion Lucidity, call it ubuntu...it doesn't matter. It replaces that deeply held belief that you're not doing well enough with something even better: the realisation that when you AREN'T good enough, there are people who will love you anyway, and will help you be far better than good enough.