It begins with morning sweating and a tightening of the chest muscles. It progresses to racing thoughts and increasing level of anxiety. Am I worried about taking an exam? Am I about to engage in some life-threatening activity? No it is the second, then the third and then the fourth day of teaching science class at Streamwood High School.
This describes the typical daily experience of an Outlier teacher, which I consider myself. It is typical given the level of commitment and risk-taking involved when creating a learning environment for my students. It is not for lack of experience or even the routine of teaching that causes such anxiety (twenty years of teaching at the high school level has well prepared me for the challenges in the classroom), but it is the goal in mind and the level of engagement needed by students that breeds such emotions.
Play, Passion and Purpose drive the intrinsic motivation of my students and my effort to facilitate these personal attributes determine the whimsy created in the classroom. This is the intrinsic incentives of exploration, empowerment and play. The learning environment that I create to tease-out this motivation in students includes teamwork, interdisciplinary problem solving, intrinsic drives and a kind of empowerment that gives individuals the confidence they need to take risks.
To engage and intellectually challenge my students through project-based models of learning is the risk-taking goal that I embrace as an educator. It also separates me from mainstream teaching that focus more exclusively upon content. It is this daily schism of balancing innovative project-based and inquiry-driven science curriculum with state standards, standardized testing and a general trend toward a more strict uniformity in the science curriculum. Innovation in the science classroom requiring risk-taking ventures for both students and teacher collide daily with testing schedules, content adherence and a general mood of resigning to the lowest common denominator in education the multiple choice standardized test.
An Outlier, I look forward to the whimsy I can create in the classroom and use it as an opportunity to engage with students in doing real science. Science has always been a process of investigation with risk-taking being its true means to the end. I feel locked in a perpetual and repetitive nature of coming back into the science classroom again and again with renewed efforts to spark enthusiasm and motivation for this subject. I guess that if I did not embrace this challenge as more of a vocation than a job, then I would have yielded years ago to the obsession for uniformity and complacency in science education.