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March 26, 2021

The Precipice of Possiblity

To the Teaching Channel Community:

Several years ago, soon after I had been named the 2010 National Teacher of the Year, I found myself about to give a speech to a room of 300 educators, every one of them accomplished and many of them my own education heroes. Executive directors and lawmakers, researchers and visionaries, educators and non-profit creators.

As I found my place at a table in the front, I gazed around the room again, my legs suddenly feeling like boulders, and my stomach a tight mess of uncertainty. My own words kept getting louder: “They got the wrong person, Sarah. There is no way you’re supposed to be here.” My throat tightened as the introduction started and I thought, “I can’t do this. I just can’t.” I took a deep breath. Then another. I closed my eyes and grasped for any image that would propel me out of that chair. First, Megan’s face. Then Jennifer’s and Jamie’s. Teacher face after teacher face showed up in that space of fear and uncertainty, and replaced it with reassurance.

It took a leap to get out of that chair: one foot firmly planted in insecurity and the other dangling over the precipice of possibility.

When I think about that day, when I think about my work at Teaching Channel over the past four years, I know that it has been about one leap after another: the vulnerability of taking that secure foot and sending it flailing into the unknown. Every time I’ve opened up my classroom or written a blog, visited one of your schools or given a presentation, there’s been a leap, that natural fear: What if I don’t make it to the other side? But just like that day in the conference center, it’s been the faces of teachers, your faces, that have urged me on.

But really, I’ve only been doing what we all do every day in the classroom: plunge into learning spaces with the exhilaration and apprehension of beginners.

Perhaps more than any other video, I hear from you about When a Lesson Goes Wrong, and the day the cameras captured my train wreck of a lesson. And I understand our connection. Every one of us has been in the midst of that day, when it all falls apart, and both feet are firmly planted within the boundary of insecurity. Often, without realizing it, that insecurity grows into shame and then isolation.

As I’ve listened to you, read what you’ve written, seen your faces, I’ve learned it’s that quiet shame of imperfection we teachers must liberate ourselves from. I sometimes share with teachers what happened right after that lesson gone wrong. One of the cameramen came up to me and sheepishly said, “You know, Sarah, I don’t think they’re going to want to use that one.” My reply was quick and clear, “Oh yes they will! And here’s why. First, it’s what I signed up to do: capture what really happens, the good and the bad. Secondly, you don’t get this kind of thing on camera very often. Third, someone has to go first.”

Someone has to go first.

And even though I had to go first, you never let me leap alone. It is with the deepest gratitude that I thank everyone who has been part of this Teaching Channel community for welcoming me into your classrooms, into your practices. You. Have changed. Me.

As it goes with those of us who leap, I am changing my role here at Teaching Channel to Laureate Emeritus, putting you in the careful hands of the Laureate Team, and making my way to my own site, Open Teaching. I’ll be writing and connecting, curating and experimenting, working to live the lessons of getting better we’ve learned here.

And… jump!



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