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Teaching Without Training Wheels: A Back to School Message

It was time to take the training wheels off. In fact, it was long overdue. My nine-and-a-half-year-old daughter had been too afraid to ride her bike without them, yet too embarrassed to ride with them on. Her friends were riding with no hands, and the 6-year-old girl on the corner had ditched her extra pair of wheels a year ago. Instead of facing her fear of trying to balance the bike on her own, my daughter left it in the garage and contently rode her scooter.

Isn't this what some of us do? Teachers ride around school buildings with training wheels on all the time. Many of us chose to stay where it is safe—in that little box where we know parents won't get mad, the principal won't feel challenged, and we won't be called a troublemaker, a show-off, or a failure. For example, we have grand ideas for a school carnival that would raise money for a new copier and build morale among students and staff, but we don't suggest it because it's never been done before. We dismiss the idea by saying,"No one would help me" or "No one would even show up." Other times we are so embarrassed by our schools that we pretend that we don't see the problems. Or we are too afraid to confront our administrators about what's wrong and how to fix it. After all, teachers are getting laid off in this bad economy and we don't want to be on the list. So we murmur and complain to our coworkers, morale gets even lower, and the problems never get solved.

Maybe you are outspoken, confident, and things are going well at your school, but you have dreams that you've let slip by. You're content at work, but in your personal life ... not so much. Keep reading.

It's a new school year, a fresh start. I suggest that we all set a professional or personal goal to remove at least one set of our training wheels. That requires some risk-taking. In so doing, we will also be setting a great example for our students, who are ever learning from us when we're not teaching. When we step out to follow our dreams, they notice. We can inspire and empower them just by being excited about the changes we are making in our own lives. It may sound new-agey, but it's true that our positive energy can help revive our students' low energy. Health and wellness in the classroom starts with us.

The blog you are reading right now exists because I removed some training wheels. After six years as a reporter for publications like People magazine and The Journal News, I had essentially quit writing once I became an educator—using all the excuses of no time, no energy left, no message. I am a somewhat shy person, so posting the required headshot online was a big deal, let alone circulating my opinion blog on Facebook and Twitter. (I had chosen a career as a print reporter because visual media scared the heebie-jeebies out of me.)

I am also back in Spanish class. I had taken Spanish lessons for a year and even spent three weeks in Guatemala trying to learn the language. Two years ago, however, I got discouraged and dropped out of class. I put the training wheels back on and accepted that I'll always need my teacher's assistant to translate parent conferences with my Spanish-only parents. But not anymore: I will learn to speak Spanish fluently!

Between my lessons, my new blog, and the fact that my youngest child is starting kindergarten, I couldn't be more excited about the start of the new school year. I'm sure my students will notice when they return tomorrow.

Despite my daughter's cries against it, on Aug. 20th, my husband took off the training wheels and told her to take a seat. In front of all her friends on the block, she wobbled and fell, wobbled and fell. She was so nervous she kept forgetting to pedal. But before long, my kid was holding her own, riding slow but steady. Before long, she was racing her friends—and winning! That night, the girl had the audacity to tell me, "It's Daddy's fault why I just now learned how to ride my bike. He should have taken the training wheels off a long time ago."

And she was right.

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The opinions expressed in Charting My Own Course are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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