It’s fair to say that young teachers, especially those teachers who are passionate about what they do, quite easily embrace “teacher” as their whole identity. No longer are we a foodie, or a person from a particular state, or so-and-so college alumnus, or voracious reader, or nerd when we introduce ourselves. No. We are teachers.
It is what we do, day in and day out. Lesson planning, worrying about a student, thinking about how to incorporate a new tool, writing a new grant, learning a new pedagogical strategy: those are the things that young, passionate teachers do. We want to be model teachers who work diligently and inquisitively to make sure each of our students reaches their full potential.
One of these many pedagogical facts that we know to be true, especially we who embrace the teacher identity to its fullest, is that modeling is important. We model with rubrics and examples, we model with projects, we model with instruction. We model all day long. It’s basic to pedagogy.
However, in this rush to live our lives fully as “teacher” I find that it’s easy to forget that we ourselves must also be models to our students of how adulthood should best be lived. Besides our students’ parents, their teachers are the adults with whom they spend the most time each day. Many of our students will grow up to have jobs that aren’t even invented yet. And although we may not like it, most of our students will not grow up to be teachers. So, how can we be models of success if most likely they won’t follow in our footsteps to live the teaching profession as we do?
We can be models of innovation.
I’ve learned how powerful this can be first hand. I, despite my “you should be lesson planning” voice, took a weekend in 2014 to spend at a StartupWeekend EDU. At the end of this weekend, I had co-founded an educational technology company, DocentEDU, with a teacher colleague of mine. Also, despite that pesky “lesson plan” voice, I have persevered with the company.
Every day in my classroom I have the chance to be a model for my students of what innovation can look like. My students use my application on a daily basis and I tell them about our growth as a company. They hear how I presented in front of a packed theater of 900 people, they see how I tweet with people all over the world, and they read my business plan for our many business competitions.
I love remembering the day that we got a new student in the class. We were using my application, and someone mentioned something about “Karin’s extension.” The new student asked what the other student meant. They answered, “Karin made this. This is her company.” The other student was blown away. What a powerful moment of modeling innovation.
What’s also amazing is that my students have joined in on this innovation. They call the programmer with me when there’s an error, they suggest new features and see them implemented the next week, they help me troubleshoot and enhance the UI experience. This has bloomed into many of my students working in the makerspace more often, building their own ideas, and even learning to code.
To be honest with myself, my students never really cared if I self-identified strongly as teacher. Like I said, it’s very unlikely that any of them will ever become teachers. However, it is very likely that some of them will become entrepreneurs, or programmers, or other jobs that don’t even exist currently.
Being an entrepreneur has allowed me to take modeling to the next level. I now model for my students every day. I don’t model how to write an amazing lesson plan (although my lesson plans are great, and I would love if a student wanted to read them), but instead what it means to find be innovative, try something new, and do something that you never thought possible. As a passionate teacher, I want my students to learn to be innovative. Now, as an entrepreneur, I can model that for them.