'There Are So Many Inspirational Teachers Out There': An Interview With Meenoo Rami
This summer, I'll be alternating between publishing thematic compilations of past posts and sharing interviews with authors of recent books I consider important and useful for us educators.
LF: You've written what seems to be an excellent practical guide to help teachers stay in the profession over the long haul by developing positive mentor relationships, build professional learning networks, identify ways to be continually intellectually challenged, listen to your own needs, and to look for ways to develop a student-centered classroom.
If you had to choose only one key point you make for each of those five actions, what five points would they be?
There are certainly some key things I hope people keep in mind from each chapter after reading the book, they include:
Chapter 1: Turn to Mentors: I think it took me a while to figure this out, but I think it's important to have more than one mentor in your life. Different mentors bring us different types of learning opportunities and I don't think opportunities should be limited in any way. Having a diverse set of people you can turn to as you navigate your professional life is a blessing.
Chapter 2: Join and Build Networks: It took me a while to learn this but I hope readers of Thrive will remember that there are so many ways to connect with networks. There is power in teachers coming together in-person and online to share their ideas, questions, and practices with one and another. I hope more teachers look to the teacher down the hall and teacher across the country as a potential collaborator. There is value in being plugged into local and national level network and I see great hope because the groundswell of teachers coming together in spaces like Edcamp(s) around the country.
Chapter 3: Keep your work intellectually challenging: I deeply believe that a huge part of our work with students is to model lifelong learning practices and help them find their own passion in life. This sort of work cannot be done unless you share your own love of learning with them and model the types of work that all you do in your own life outside of the classroom.
Chapter 4: Listen to Yourself: This is hard to do but I think it is important to do this. I think you have to bring emotional honesty to your work and find ways to align your work to your values. Where there is a disconnect, you will notice that your energy is depleting.
Chapter 5: Empower Your Students: The ultimate task for us as teachers is to leave our students more curious and courageous. It is pertinent to think about this central work when you feel inundated with mandates, standards, and requirements coming at you from the outside. Joy and inquiry can live side by side in classroom where students feel like they are part of a learning community.
LF: Though you provide many relatively simple ways to accomplish all five of those goals, it still seems difficult to balance them all -- along with all the constant challenges of teaching and personal/family lives.
What percentage of time do you feel like you're doing a good job in all five areas, and have you found some kind of "key" to maintain that balance?
I hardly ever feel like I am doing a great job in all of these areas. I have learned to extend the same compassion I give my students to myself. When I feel overwhelmed by sheer number of tasks before me, I try to prioritize and try not to let perfection get in the way of doing good work with my students. I try to remember the thing I tell my students that the process of learning how to do something is far more valuable than just the final product. Most importantly, I am working on embracing my vulnerabilities and ask for help when I need it. This is the most difficult thing for me but once again, I have to model this for my students as well.
LF: Do you think the Common Core Standards and the next generation of standardized testing make it easier, harder, or make no difference in the ability for teachers to "thrive" in those five areas?
Our society rightfully expects us to prepare the next generation of change agents but I am not sure the way to promote that kind of authentic learning happens via drill and kill test-prep sessions. I think it is certainly harder to cultivate joy and maintain energy these days as a teacher but we cannot afford to wait to see if policies around us will shift. We must make our own path to finding joy and fulfillment in our work. We must connect with one and another as colleagues and raise our voices in the face of thoughtless implementation of shortsighted policies.
LF: It may have been a year or more since you made the final edits on the book. What have you learned since that manuscript submission date that you'd put in the book now?
I would deepen some of the sections in the book if I had more time and could make additions to the work that already exists in Thrive. I have heard from many readers that the section on experiencing vulnerability as teacher is especially resonates with them; I would like to think and write more deeply on this topic. For example, I would like to include a list of things teachers feel vulnerable about in the classroom; perhaps this list could be collected anonymously via a Google form submission. Who I am is a big part of the work I do with my students - this lesson has been hard-earned and it has helped me to find alignment in my work.
The voices of amazing teachers included in Thrive, in my opinion, make it a better book in the end. If given a chance to work on this book some more, I would like to include few more profiles of teachers in the book. There are so many inspirational teachers out there and I feel like more of their voices could be honored here.
I am grateful for those who have shared their thoughts on the book via reviews, tweets, emails, etc. I have learned even more about these ideas because of this exchange.
LF: Is there anything I haven't asked that you'd like to share?
Although some teachers might think I am crazy for saying this, I believe this is the best moment to be a teacher. Despite attacks on our profession, union-busting that is rampant around the country, and unrelenting focus on standardization than individualization in schools, there is a lot of amazing and exciting work being done in our classroom around the country. I hope teachers remember that no matter where you began your teaching journey, where it goes next is up to you. You have the power to construct the next phase and passage of teaching career.
LF: Thanks, Meenoo