The last two or three years haven’t been pretty. They’ve been filled with anxiety, handwringing, and lots of doubt.
One of my biggest doubts has been that I no longer connect with my students. Maybe it’s age. Or race. Or something else. Whatever it is, I’ve felt a distance. The classroom is surreal, not genuine. The students and I play parts, just go through the motions. We’re caricatures, not people.
Yes, this sounds like burnout.
My usual response is, Let’s make things real again. Let’s tell the truth. Let’s build relationships and stay present in my teaching.
I think that’s part of the answer, but I’m realizing something much more powerful: There’s really nothing real about the classroom in the first place. And that’s OK.
In classrooms, we are all playing parts. It just matters which parts we’re playing.
In my best years of teaching, my students think of me as more than what I am. They might say they want to know the real me, but they prefer details that offer edginess, attitude, and charisma. Reputation becomes reality.
In my best years of teaching, I think of my students as more than what they are. They’re not just the first in their families to go to college. No, they’re heroes: they vanquish the AP test, they defeat their opponents at the state civics tournament, they leave graduate students awestruck.
The best classrooms, after all, are places of myth. Not the bad kind of myth. The kind of myth with heroes and gods, the legendary kind of myth.
My best years have been when I’ve allowed a little fiction to flourish. I hope that this year, instead of trying for a new version of reality, I’ll feel free to make something up. Maybe it won’t be real, but it’ll be the truth.