I find that I do some of my best thinking early in the morning. I’m not sure what it is, but it’s something about quiet, damp mornings that gets my mind moving, even when the rest of my body is not. Perhaps it’s the hope of a new day, or maybe it’s the revitalizing feeling I get when I see the morning sun peek out over the hills.
Regardless, I’ve always been one to get to school early, and I think I’ll attribute it most to my struggle with decision-making. I find that, in my creative process, my mind doesn’t think in a linear fashion. I spend a lot of time thinking deeply about the choices I’m going to make as an educator, simultaneously processing the outcomes of every decision I could make, visualizing their interconnectedness in my mind. I want to choose just the right provocation — just the right stimulus for learning. But there comes a point when we can no longer think so deeply about what we’re giving our kids. And while I’d like to say it’s because I’m thinking and rethinking and redesigning each and every lesson, there’s a much simpler reason:
It’s because the kids will be here in the morning, ready or not, and I need to be ready for them.
What’s interesting, though, is that some of my greatest learning experiences have arisen from this last-minute decision-making, whether it’s the decision to scrap the lesson I had planned out for days, or whether it’s the last-minute decisions I’ve made to subtly alter a lesson to be just the right fit for my students on that given day. Regardless, this last-minute decision-making is something that all teachers must be prepared to do; we must know how to rely on our instincts in these moments.
It wasn’t until a few days ago, when speaking with a colleague, that I realized the importance of this teacher instinct. We sat across from each other talking about the essentials of teaching and what it meant to be an effective teacher, especially in the midst of this new system in which we had found ourselves — reimagining education each and every day. My colleague specifically mentioned the instinct required to teach, especially in a place with so many variables. And while I didn’t disagree with her statement, I couldn’t help but question why I had not thought more deeply about this instinct before.
But then it all started to make sense.
Yes, we can read books, and yes, we can model our teaching after those whose methodology has stood the test of time. But it would seem that all of this is done in vain should we not trust ourselves and our instincts to know our students and the complementary sequence of learning experiences we’ve planned for them. In a way, our instincts connect us to who we are as human beings, and our alignment to who we are as human beings determines our authenticity. In essence, should we avoid listening to our instincts, then we avoid being the most authentic versions of ourselves we can be.
I lost that a bit this year — this ability to adhere to my instincts; and for a variety of reasons, from the stress of geographical displacement to the anxiety that comes from wondering whether or not those around me would understand me and my instincts.
What I’ve learned, you ask? I’ve learned that no one person’s instincts are right. Likewise, I’ve learned that no one person’s instincts are wrong. For in the moment, when we’re with the kids, our instincts guide us to do exactly what we should do in that moment. And once our instincts guide us there, we’ve made an irrevocable mark.
But what if our instincts guide us down the wrong path? What if our instincts cause us to make a mistake?
The truth is, it doesn’t quite matter, because when all is said and done, those irrevocable marks will only continue to shape and refine our instincts so that every day, when we walk in our classrooms, we are the best versions of our teacher selves —
Better than we ever imagined we could be.