Sunday, November 2, 2014

Learning to Love the Mess

Post by Laura Hesse: Laura is in her 4th year of teaching social studies, the last three at Bettendorf High School. You can follow Laura on Twitter @LauraJHesse

When I was a freshman in high school, I had Mr. Lapish for 9th grade Honors English. He was skinny, dorky, and kind of weird, and he was my inspiration to be a teacher. In his class, I learned how to work hard. Every assignment required a great deal of thought and effort. At the same time, I learned how to be goofy and explore learning from new angles. We played baseball with a cardboard poster tube and tennis ball. We acted out short stories and Shakespeare. We made videos on various chapters of Lord of the Flies using Barbie dolls and construction paper backgrounds.

After high school, I left my hometown north of Chicago for a small town in northern Iowa. When I arrived at Luther College, I was ready to take on the world. At the beginning, I was a proud English and History major with a minor in secondary education. Then, in January of my sophomore year, I spent some time in a classroom, and I began to question my life. Classrooms were so messy. Students are dealing with emotions while you are dealing with facts. How do you reach out and engage students who do not even want to be in the building, let alone your classroom? How do I teach students the history of the world when all they can focus on is the drama within their own lives?

I quit.

I switched my major to Anthropology and set my sites on a distinguished career in archaeology and museum work. I convinced myself that I was making a much better choice by switching to a career that made more money and dealt with no emotions. But I felt empty.

That summer, I emailed a former education professor and poured my heart out. Instead of replying, he called me into his office. He sat me down and told me, “Laura, teaching is not for everyone. It takes passion and commitment. It takes the understanding that you will fail and you will fall, and it takes the dedication to stand back up and try again. Is it easy? No. Is it messy? Yes. But if you let it, it will make your life beautiful. Are you strong enough to let it?”

I started over in education. This time, I embraced the mess. After graduation, I ended up in the Quad Cities teaching Social Studies. In my time teaching, I have learnt that mess is the best part of teaching. Really, mess is the reason I fell in love with teaching in the first place.

Now, I try to bring mess to my daily teaching. My classes experiment with new programs and activities. We embrace new technology. We act as guinea pigs for new ideas. We hold mock town meetings to discuss peaceful protest. We take on the roles of UN peace negotiators. We explore the slang of the 1920’s. I am constantly changing lessons that fail and even lessons that succeed. It is not perfect. I am not perfect. In fact, I am far from perfect. What I am is a teacher, and I love the mess that goes with it.

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