Good Teaching In a Bubble


Architect GhostSo, on the Meyer’s Briggs Type Indicator, I am an INTJ, also known as the architect or scientist. In layman’s terms, it means I am very imaginative, but I can also be very obsessive and meticulous. Apparently, that’s rare. I bring this up because in some ways I’m a study in contradictions. I can be very curious but not always adventurous. I’m imaginative and decisive, personable but private. Yes, I may at times seem capable and outgoing to the point of being an exhibitionist, but I am at heart an introvert. I exhibit and embody most of the characteristics associated with introverts. Introversion can be seen as a weakness in gung-ho winner-take-all American culture, but I assure there are benefits as explained in Susan Cain’s wonderful 2013 book Quiet.

What it means for me is I may strive to create new and exciting work, but I don’t like standing on a soapbox discussing those efforts. I don’t so much dislike talking to others, but it is a challenge for me. This is because it takes me a long time to feel comfortable around someone and, until that point, it is both physically draining and awkward for me. It’s not important that you understand introversion except to know that

this…blogging thing…isn’t in my nature.

Interestingly, I’m not usually uncomfortable around children as normal social morays are cast aside. We can spend 40 minutes talking about why ducks have bills, why Bruce Wayne is the alter ego or the best color of M&Ms to the enjoyment of all present. And then the parents at that party, who I have said little more than hello to, thank me profusely for going out of my way to “entertain the kids” so they could have a break. When I tell them they entertained me, they think I’m just being clever. I’m not.

This may be part of why I’m a teacher. Kids make more sense to me. And special needs students who are even more separated from standard societal practices put me even more at ease. They won’t judge me for not always looking them in the eyes when talking to them or for not immediately understanding their nonverbal cues. Also, the causes behind their stemming and other behaviors are usually easier for me to read than the subtle social cues exhibited by most people. Again, this may partly be why I teach special education. I know being antisocial and somewhat uncomfortable in front of groups may seem antithetical to the nature of a teacher, but standing in front of a room was never the way I planned to teach anyway.


Ebooks_iconSo about 5 years ago I was presenting a PD to about 200+ teachers at the UFT building downtown. I was introducing them to using the iPad for instruction especially with the features of the new iBooks Author. I showed them how they could create interactive e-Books to engage students. Cool. I had become an Apple Distinguished Educator 3 years prior and, while I was striving to improve my instructional knowledge and practices (and raise 2 young boys), I wasn’t doing enough to stay engaged in this great new community of educators I now had access to.

So that was the background to me presenting with Apple Education at this event. Things went well and the teachers seemed excited, engaged, and informed even if most did not seem innately tech savvy. I got the questions from many teachers about how they could stay up to date on educational technology advances, and I had a couple of resources. It wasn’t really good enough though. They clamored for my blog which did not yet exist. I was compelled to correct that oversight at the nearest opportunity. Then life happened, and I returned to the safety of my social shell focused solely on my family and my students not really

After several more years of innovation in educational technology instruction in District 75 to the adoration of my administrator, I began to draw the attention of district supervisors. I would be asked to present to other teachers and held up as an exemplar when we were selected as an Apple Distinguished District. So despite what seemed to be my efforts to quietly forge ahead doing the best most creative teaching I could devise, I caught some people’s attention. For most that would be great, but, for me, it called for soul-searching.  At the end of that introspection, I realized I had to do more.

It began with me making more concerted efforts to train teachers in my school and guide them into the 21st century. Through my awkwardness, I struggled, but it began to bear fruit. I helped teachers get their non-verbal cognitively impaired 7 year-olds to begin coding. I got illiterate and angry kids to tell stories through movies. It was exhilarating. Then an opportunity arose that seemed to be the next evolution in my journey. A district level technology coaching position opened up, and I had to delve inward again. Was I ready? Could I move to a larger stage? Didn’t I owe it to other teachers to share the insights I had gained? So, about a year and a half ago I applied and got the position.

Since then I have embraced that new role to share and evangelize educational technology to the masses. People seemed very receptive and loved the insights I was sharing through professional development, newsletters, and direct instruction. As I learned new techniques and became acquainted with the leaders of prominent ed-tech companies, I was being pushed to reach out even more.

lisa nielsen the innovative educator

Lisa Nielsen

It was around that time that I started to get more closely acquainted with the social media guru and Innovative Educator, Lisa Nielsen. If you’ve met Lisa for more than 2 minutes, you’ll know she has a passion for promoting educational practices on social media. You’ll know this because in that 3rd minute she’ll have snapped a selfie with you and composed one of her “killer tweets.” Or maybe she’s Periscoping a meeting you happen to be attending. I note this because she is innately skilled and passionate about that. I am not. It is not natural for me. In fact, when she begins any of those efforts, my initial reaction is mild discomfort. I’m bad at social conventions in person let alone on Twitter. If someone follows me on Twitter, I don’t know the protocol. Is it rude not to follow back? Should I thank people for follows or retweets or does that just make everyone else more annoyed? And while I ponder those questions dozens of tweets float by unattended. Then I’m overwhelmed and have to get away from people who are, at that point in our relationship, only virtual text.

But now I’m forced to recognize how it is for my special needs students in environments that make them feel more viscerally fearful than I can understand. I’m forced to realize that…

discomfort is necessary for growth.

But is that selfish? Yes we, as teachers, have to care for ourselves. Stop your 5-minute working lunches where you burn your mouth and spill on your shirt because you’re busy prepping the amazing 8-foot tall Egyptian ruin you’ve built for your 6th-period history class. That doesn’t mean don’t build it, but don’t kill yourself today in an effort that will cost you 3 sick days next week. What I mean is as awesome as that lesson is, is it good enough?

I don’t mean your paper-mache craft which I’m sure is spot on. I’m not referencing the historical accuracy of using Sharpies. It’s this.

Is good teaching in a bubble, good enough?

I came to realize that, for me, it wasn’t And I came to recognize after the cajoling and encouragement from engaged educators like Lisa that sharing my story not only benefits me by clarifying the ideas and concepts in my mind. Apart from the advice and insight I receive, it could also benefit others on their educator journey.

Lisa continued to share insights that she discovered long before about why you should be blogging and why you should not. So I began tweeting, answering Facebook posts, presenting at more conferences, and finding opportunities to share my successes, struggles, fears, and hopes for the future. Then I began writing about them here. I may not always be good at expressing it to those beyond my classroom walls. I may be uncomfortable and fail many times before I find any marginal success, but I will forge ahead. I began to take on the words of the Special Olympics motto as a personal mantra. I saw myself as an educational gladiator. As I became uncomfortable I would hear those words of Eunice Kennedy Shriver saying, “In Ancient Rome, gladiators went into the arena with these words on their lips,

‘Let me win. But if I can’t win, let me be brave in the attempt.’


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