threadTALK Blog Series 10: Thoughts of a Highschool Teacher with Marie Morris
Teaching is a work of heart and some have a special gift for discovering how to get students excited about learning. Take a closer look inside a high school classroom with Marie Morris. With 12 years of teaching under her belt, her experience has been anything but ordinary. Find out why it’s important to let students see you make mistakes and how Marie documents her journey with the world through YouTube on our brand new threadTALK feature.
Q Tell us a little bit about yourself and your YouTube channel. When did you start and what made you want to start creating videos?
A I just started my 13th year in the field of education, and most of my career has been in the high school classroom. A few years ago, when I was pregnant with my second child, I applied for and was hired for a 2-year special assignment to teach enrichment lessons at various elementary schools in my district. Because I am a high school teacher by trade, stepping into classrooms with children ranging in ages from 4 to 11 was going to be a stretch, but I had no idea how big of a stretch. Day 1 on this job tested my behaviour management skills, my teaching strategies, and my overall stamina. What I learned from my experience in all levels of elementary classrooms has forever changed the way I approach my own classroom, and this got me thinking - if I learned so much from experiencing other classrooms and seeing other teachers at work, wouldn't everyone else benefit from the same sort of experience? Since we all know that education is grossly underfunded, I knew that taking my whole staff to observe elementary classrooms for a day probably wasn't in the cards, and sharing my own experiences through stories would only go so far. Eventually, I turned to the search engine many of us go to when we want to solve a problem - YouTube. I stumbled upon this whole community of educators from all over the world who were taking their viewers into their classrooms, and I knew I had to be a part of it! I started making videos on my channel in March of 2018, and I have grown immensely as an educator as a result because every single video I make is a process of reflecting on my teaching craft.
Q Have you always been a high school level teacher or have you taught any other grades? What has been your favourite grade to teach and why?
A As I said above, most of my experience has been in the high school classroom, but I have taught in classrooms in all grades of elementary school, and in the college setting. When I was about 4 years into my career, the big recession hit and there were simply no jobs out there for newer teachers in my area, so I decided to go back to school full-time to finish the master's degree I started. During my time in grad school, I worked at a TA with a couple of my professors and lectured in their 100 level classes - this is where I learned that I most likely do not have a future in higher education, at least not for the time being. While younger college students are a lot like high school students, I missed the childlike wonder that teenagers can surprise you with and the innocence still intact (they are still kids, after all!). And, while my stint as a travelling elementary teacher did give me incredible insight as to different ways of approaching my teaching craft, it also taught me that I am most definitely a secondary teacher. I would have to say that my very favorite grade to teach would have to be a tie between 10th and 12th grade. High school sophomores are all over the board when it comes to maturity - some are just older freshmen, while others have really grown into being high schoolers - and they are the age group that I see the most growth out of from the beginning of a year to the end. I always make the joke that we see students off for Thanksgiving break, only to greet them again in December and they've gained about 2 inches in height and suddenly understand how to "do high school." My other favorite, 12th grade, is full of the types of conversations I dreamed about having when I knew I wanted to be an English teacher. Seniors have enough experience under their belts that they can grasp most content without too much support, but they are also hyper-aware of the fact that they are months away from leaving the safety net of high school, so their thirst for learning and simply figuring things out is in full force.
Q What has been your biggest struggle and biggest blessing as a high school teacher?
A What has been your biggest struggle and biggest blessing as a high school teacher? A: If I have to narrow it down to one, I would say that my biggest struggle as a high school teacher is that we can't be everything to everyone who needs us. Teachers notoriously have a never-ending list of things to do at all times, and setting priorities is one of the lessons new teachers learn right off the bat. The truth is, though, that every single student could use more attention, love, and consideration than they get, no matter who they are, and we simply cannot give everyone everything they need. This can (and does) send many teachers into a spiral of frantically working day in and day out during the school year, and then crashing and burning during breaks and summer, myself included. The minute that I really understood what it means to slow down, be intentional and mindful, and really only worry about the very top priorities, was the minute that I became a much more effective educator. My biggest blessing as a high school teacher was actually becoming a mom (I have a 6-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter) because it taught me patience in a way I didn't know it before. When I had my son, I gained the understanding that every single student in my room was someone else's baby, someone else's world, and it made me want to be the teacher I would want my kids to have. I am in no way saying that a person has to be a parent in order to be a great educator (because that is FAR from the truth!), but it did take that life change for things to fall into perspective for my brain. Once I began to see and understand my students as someone's baby, I became much more understanding of the behaviors that students exhibit when they are hurting, confused, or out of sorts, and I began to separate the student from their behaviors. On the flip side, I also expect a LOT more out of my students, both academically and behaviorally - if my daughter could figure out how to turn on the tv for herself and navigate to her favorite Netflix shows at 2 years old (with or without Mommy's permission), then my teenage students can figure out how to navigate a Google Doc without a step-by-step tutorial. (In fact, they can find it on YouTube!)
Q Do you have any advice/tips for first-time high school teachers?
A My biggest tip for any new teacher, but especially new high school teachers is to let students see you make mistakes. Often we think we need to be perfect in order to be “good” at teaching, but there is so much great learning that can happen when students see adults face a problem, try to solve it, and recover from the whole situation (no matter if the problem was actually solved or not!). Modeling for students how to deal with stress at the moment is way more valuable than any “perfect” lesson plan could ever be.
Q Lastly, we love that you were able to relate your story with our designs. If you were to give a title to your life story, what would it be and why?
A I would say that my life story would be entitled “ And Nevertheless, She Persisted” because I am a pretty tenacious person, both at work and in my personal life. If there is something I want to accomplish, I tend to get laser focus and figure out how to get it done.
Marie is wearing our "She Taught Happily Ever After Relaxed Crew Tee"