Before teaching, I worked at an FAA overhaul and maintenance repair shop. When it comes to airplanes, there’s little room for error. One simple type-o in the morning can lead to a screaming phone call at night: “WE HAVE AN A.O.G. (aircraft on ground)! DID YOU FORGET THAT CODE TOO?!”
When I became a teacher, I transferred these skills into my classroom. I filed meticulous reports, analyzed data, and tracked growth. I made contact with stakeholders. I studied trends and patterns. I recognized that no “customer” gets turned away. I even used the same filing system.
My colleagues soon began to notice me. They nominated me for awards and mentioned me in meetings. I didn’t understand that what I was doing was not normal: I was just being a professional. In my view, working with children was far more difficult than ordering pneumatic pumps, coding part numbers, and proof-reading certifications.
Within a few years, I shed most of these habits: nobody was ever going to audit my scores, formatting, or reports. Instead of spending weekends analyzing patterns, I started designing more entertaining lessons.
These short cuts worked. My class was so fun that the kids said it didn’t even feel like learning.
A couple years later, I realized I could please principals with educational trends like journaling and annotating. I bought the fanciest journals and put them in the middle of my classroom like the Hunger Games reaping. I turned annotating into a game. We marked everything we read, annotating poems like “Casey at the Bat” with hundreds of colorful, artistic comments.
I was teachering so hard.
By my seventh year, my passion dwindled. In my over-focus to make everything fun, I was becoming jaded, bitter, and boring. I said things like “I shouldn’t have to do this; no one cares about learning.” I was ironically overworked and bored.
So I decided to “do” National Board. It seemed hard and prestigious. Total teacher bingo.
With chagrin, I admit I didn’t understand the process when I committed to it; I just thought it would seal my reputation. Imagine my first coaching conversation when in place of a gold star, my coach simply asked: “you’re quite busy; tell me: are you effective?” I literally did not see the difference. I actually believed that the best teachers were the busiest teachers.
She tried a different approach: “I can tell your classroom is a place where kids want to be. Can you tell me how you gauge learning differently than participation?” Me: “I give tests.”
Coach: “Ohhkay, how do you know those tests gauge learning?” This lady wasn’t taking my answers. I threw the annotation card on the table: nothing. I showed her the journals. Nothing. I tried other coaches. I tried other candidates. Nothing, nada, zilch.
I snot-cried. I gave up. I went back. I reorganized my binders. I Googled answers. I tried more coaches. I concocted National Board conspiracy theories…
I call this stage of my journey my NB-PTSD.
My epiphany came from a wise coach who saw I was falling into a kind of madness. In essence, she said, “unless there’s evidence, it doesn’t exist. At all. It’s the same as not showing up to work”. Woah. I’d only taken two sick days in seven years. That hit me hard.
It also threw me back into my Perform Air mindset. I reacquainted myself with data, evidence, and patterns—this time pragmatically. I stubbornly decided to prove I was an effective teacher. I reworked goals, making them specific to each class. I started planning for evidence . I discovered a world of assessment beyond “a., b., c., or d.” I realized that unless I could directly link my actions to student learning, I was wasting my time and my students’.
It’s sometimes said that teaching is like fixing the airplane while it’s in flight. There’s no denying the importance of passenger comfort, but ultimately, it’s safety and well-being that really matters. Airlines don’t just let anyone operate their machines: they want highly certified technicians who can anticipate and correct patterns before they become problems. After all, one employee’s quick-thinking can change a future for everyone on board.
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