27 March 2011

a little knowledge from the wizard

While we were in London, I had a chance to see Wicked.

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="269" caption="Wicked at the Apollo Victoria "]Wicked at the Apollo Victoria[/caption]

I'll admit I'm not much of a musical fan and to see an American Musical in London? I didn't think we would have much fun. I couldn't imagine they could capture the essence of our American-ness through their British Lens. Well, whatever that even means, it was the most fantastic show I've ever seen in my life. I've not been to a lot, but of the few I have seen, this was by far the best.

There were several songs in the show that impacted me. I've done so much reflection over the past few years that it has become somewhat automatic to apply whatever it is I am hearing or seeing to my own life. Especially if there is something significant that can relate directly to me. (I'll give a shout out to Claudia Swisher, my professor for Reflective Writing, who helped develop that skill!)

If you haven't seen Wicked, you probably already know the story, because it is the behind-the-scenes look at The Wizard of Oz. It's basically one long character sketch of each of the characters told in a narrative form. What a brilliant idea! Now, I could go a completely different direction with this post and talk at length about learning why your problem students are who they are. Do they have some difficult home issues? Have they been abused? Has someone been telling them they weren't wanted in the first place and should, therefore, realize they are not wanted now? Likewise, it wouldn't be hard to apply this to good students. Is there someone who is supporting them emotionally at home? In another class? Is there a situation they have realized is undesirable and they are working as hard as possible to get out of it? But that's not where I'm going with my thoughts.

The character I related to in this story was the Wizard. (*SPOILER ALERT*)

The Wizard was a guy who, upon first interaction, would have a loud, gruff voice and could be a bit scary. I suspect my appearance might be a little intimidating to students and when I use my military voice, I can be loud and sound quite mean. Of course if you know me, you realize neither of those are not the case. But I digress.

The Wizard used technology. A lot. In fact, when you went to see him, you didn't actually interact with him, but with a giant metal head sitting on a throne of gold, while the real wizard talked into a microphone. By the way, if you are into Steampunk, you would love his Throne!

So the Wizard was apparently thrust into the job of Wizarding by the people of Oz, although I never really understood why, we just learn that he was. One of the songs he sings is called "Wonderful" and his lyrics say it best:

I never asked for this
Or planned it in advance
I was merely blown here
By the winds of chance
I never saw myself
As a Solomon or Socrates
I knew who I was:
One of your dime a dozen

I can relate to that! When I first started teaching, I didn't really see myself excelling in teaching. I didn't see that I had whatever quality it is that great teachers have (and I'm still not sure I do). Honestly, when I first was approached about teaching, it was my father-in-law. I was repulsed by the thought of it. Even when I decided to go back to school in '04, I thought I would go back and be a graphic designer. Yeah, I know. If you know my type "A" personality, you know I don't have a creative bone in my body. I would be a terrible graphic designer! So, I decided to go into teaching. The winds of chance took me into a certain Dr. Winslow's Physics class and I found myself helping other students when they didn't understand. If found that with the right professor, physics came easy to me.

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="189" caption="The Wizard"]The Wizard[/caption]

I certainly didn't see myself as a teacher. I was just a mediocre student taking Physics for the 2nd time. Yes, I failed it way back in '89.

I won't bore you with all of the lyrics from the song, I'll let you go read them if you want. Or, if you prefer, you can check out this video of Joel Grey's Broadway version. This is where the analogy between me and the Wizard breaks down. Or does it? See, I really think the Wizard was a guy who started believing his own publicity. People said he was Wonderful, so he became Wonderful! That can work two different ways:

  1. You are not wonderful, but people want you to be wonderful, so you start taking shortcuts to make yourself look wonderful. Maybe you use technology to make up for your shortcomings. Whether it's teaching, or leading, or whatever. This is an area about which I have to be super careful. I don't want to be told I'm wonderful and then put this brand-new set of expectations on myself and start taking shortcuts to make up for any (perceived or real) shortcomings. It can be really easy to look good on paper and then sit back on your laurels and lower the bar of what is acceptable for excellence. This is where I am right now. I want to continue to expect the same things (or more) out of students and myself when it comes to my classroom. I don't want to start coasting and letting my past success (whether perceived or real) carry me through. (*If you can't tell, I'm still struggling with whether or not I am the teacher people really think I am.*)

  2. You are not wonderful, but instead of people simply wanting you to be wonderful, they start telling you that you are wonderful. And so you begin to become wonderful. You start to believe the publicity, but in a good way. It actually changes your practice. I think great people are both born and made. I don't think I started out being a great teacher. However, my colleagues have been such a positive influence on me. I can point to several people in my Master's classes who have positively impacted my self-image, people in the PC High faculty, district administrators, and of course people in my family. Its one thing to be told you are great at what you do, but its something entirely different when you actually begin to believe it. I'm at that this point in my life when I am starting to see that I can have a positive influence on students. I have been there long enough that students are coming back and telling me how my class was a positive experience and has helped them in college. Or just that I was willing to listen when they needed to talk was exactly what they needed. This does wonders for someone who has not always thought that much of themselves.

Here's my point of this entire post: I want the praise and adulation I'm enjoying right now to be something positive. I don't want to become self-centered and "Hey look how awesome I am!" I want to graciously accept the attention I have and try to be a positive influence on others. Having board members look closely at what I am doing in class has definitely changed what I do. In quantum physics, they call that "the observation effect". When the state of an object changes because it is being observed.

I think (I hope) I fall into the second category. When people start to talk about how wonderful I am, I start to believe them and work harder at being better at what I do. Where do you fall? Are you believing your own publicity? Do you believe in yourself as others do? Or are you just using available tools to cover up the shortcomings that exist because of the expectations others have placed on you?

These are tough questions and they usually only bring up other questions. However, if we ask ourselves the tough questions, it keeps us from being asked even more difficult questions when we get into trouble.