By Sarah McKinney
Back in March, a neighbor who was moving offered his used chain link fence to me for free knowing that I was looking to set up a fence for my dog. I had it in my mind to install the fence on my own. How hard could it be? Right away, friends questioned who I was going to hire to put up the fence. Skeptical and concerned, few of them gave me the impression they thought I could handle the project on my own. I wondered why this was. Was it that they thought I lacked upper body strength? Or was it that they had never known me to complete this kind of project before?
With friends’ comments ringing in my ears, “the fence” quickly became a project I had to prove I could complete by myself. Despite being determined to get the project done myself, self-doubt swirled in my mind. How much fencing material did I even have? Was it enough to enclose my backyard? Was I strong enough to lift the fencing on my own? Maybe there was some truth to the doubt I heard in my friends’ comments. Still, I set a weekend to complete the project.
Going off of the recommendation of the neighbor who gave me the fence, I rented an auger (i.e. post hole digger). I thought it would take me no more than 20 minutes to dig all of the necessary holes. I could not have been more wrong. Not being a native of Washington, I did not realize that just below the friendly six inch top soil layer lives a layer of potato-sized rocks, which soon sent the auger flying out of control. I struggled to manage the machine and each hole was more difficult than the last to dig.
Over an hour later, hole dug, I started putting poles in the ground. I was happy with my progress. But when I went to lift the roll of chain link, I soon realized I needed someone to support it while I attached it to the poles. Tired and covered in dirt, I was disappointed in myself. I thought I could finish the project on my own, but I was losing steam quickly. My arms had turned to jello. Reluctantly, I texted some friends for back up. Once they arrived, we got to work, developing a system as we went. We had the whole fence completed in under an hour.
While reflecting on the construction process, I realized that what I learned during this simple project sets a fitting tone for the Saints IgnitED blog and perfectly encapsulates what I have learned as a teacher candidate at SMU. Here are five lessons I would like to share:
1. Embrace a DIY attitude
Teaching requires a “go-getter” attitude toward everything from curriculum design to classroom management. You must be the driving force behind innovation and change. Sometimes you have to go at it alone. My fence project felt this way at the beginning. There is a lot to be said for the process of “doing it yourself”. Cultivate self-sufficiency in yourself.
2. Step outside your comfort zone
The idea of putting up a fence on my own was daunting to say the least. Similarly, teaching is not always about being comfortable; it’s about pushing yourself further, harder, and beyond for your students. Try new things. Surprise yourself. The profession depends upon innovation and risk taking.
3. Plan, but prepare for the unexpected
I’m a planner by nature, but my experience as a teacher candidate has shown me that sometimes, the plan will fail. Ever had a lesson bomb mid-period? Things tend to take a turn for the unexpected at that point, and you have to “roll with it”. I did not expect to hit so many rocks in the ground, nor did I anticipate having to call on friends for help. The plan for the day was rewritten, and that’s okay!
This is one of the most valuable lessons I have learned during the MIT program. Teaching is collaborative endeavor. As much as it is important to lead in innovation and adopt a DIY attitude on your own, find those people in your program, in your building, and online who are similarly motivated in the field of education. Most of all, collaborate with your students. My fence would not have been completed without the help of my friends. I just had to ask for help. Connect, grow, and learn together.
5. Failure IS an option
The whole time I was working on the fence, I kept wondering what would happen if I could not lift the auger or if the fence would not stay up. But then I thought, at least try! There is no harm in trying to complete this project yourself. With day-to-day teaching, there is always tomorrow. If the lesson flopped and the kids were giving you blank stares, try again tomorrow. And teach your students the same lesson.
The beauty of pursuing a career in education, I’m finding, is that you start to see the learning process unfold in every day interactions and activities where you may not have previously seen them. Think about when you have learned lessons applicable to teaching during the course of your daily routines and experiences. If you think about it for a while, I’m certain you will come up with something that is worth sharing with other educators and that merits personal reflection as you progress through the program and enter the profession.