Throw Your Spaghetti (and 2 More Tips for a Meaningful Teaching Career)

by | 05.2.22

Rae Walker is a special education teacher in Maryland. Connect with Rae on Twitter @RaekwonSWalker.

I jokingly tell students that I’m nosy. I want to know if they ate dinner last night, or breakfast this morning before class. We have feelings check-ins so I can learn about what state they’re really in when they enter the classroom. Are they actually ready and able to show up fully and learn? My technique is really just ensuring, to the best of my ability, that a young person feels heard, seen, affirmed and able to be honest with me about whatever they feel like they need for that day. It uplifts their sense of agency, whatever it is they might be going through in school or outside of school. 

I have so much gratitude for my fellow educators, because this kind of care and attention is such a huge component of our work. I also understand that with our day-to-day demands it can be difficult to stay connected to how meaningful this work truly is. So here are a few things I always do to stay connected with what this work means – and I offer them to my fellow teachers, too: 

Collect everything

I collect everything. I hold on to every note, whether from a student directly or one passed on to me from an adult in their lives. On top of that, I document everything. I’m talking about the everyday moments in the classroom – the “aha” moments, the small victories of getting through a tough day, the moments when students smile or laugh or just light up.  It’s important that we educators hold onto those things – for ourselves, but also to share with young people when they’re struggling. It lightens the load no matter which side of the relationship you’re on. 

Protect your capacity for growth

No matter how many years you’ve been an educator, you’re still learning – and it’s so important to stay connected to your own capacity for growth. We have to stay curious and open to discovering new information and new ways of doing what we do best. Many of us tell our students that there’s always more to know. So it’s important to cultivate that openness in our own learning. 

In practice that can mean reflecting on what I’ve said in the classroom or the hallway, as well as how I’ve said it. What was my intention, and what was the impact? Did it all fit? Did it all align? If not, then it’s up to me to be transparent with students about my mistakes. 

Humbly saying to a student, “Hey, my tone wasn’t appropriate back there, and I could see how that impacted you. Is now a good time to unpack that and try again?” I think that’s when the good learning happens, the transferable skills happen, when I can show them that outside of teaching, I am also a person. That’s such a key part of how we build mutual respect and positive school culture, as well as how we make more affirming moments possible for ourselves and for students. 

Throw spaghetti at the wall (not literally)

My advice for all my fellow teachers right now is this: Throw the spaghetti at the wall and see if it sticks. If you can embrace that what sticks for today may fall off tomorrow (but might stick again in two months) then you’ll be able to explore and experiment and have fun alongside the young people you work with. Embrace the spaghetti on the wall process that teaching is and allow that to surprise you and bring you joy. And for those of us who’ve been in the classroom for several years, let’s remember to throw some spaghetti too.

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