There's a reason why science teachers seriously limit the number of labs we do with kids every year. Labs are expensive, complicated, and above all accident prone . It's a lot for one teacher to manage, especially when you've got more than twenty teenagers crammed in a small lab space with plenty of glass/sharp things to go around. The first lab I do with my tenth graders is the infamous flame lab. Yes, it's literally called the flame lab. Give every four kids a mini-blow torch, a long metal stick, and lots of powdery chemicals. What could go wrong?
As it turns out...actually nothing went wrong with the students. It was me who got hurt! More often than not..it ends up that way. I'm literally shedding blood for my students. Ok I admit that's kind of an exaggeration but it is hilarious (and slightly embarrassing) to think about me standing in front of 30 kids lecturing about the importance of staying safe from hot metal blowtorches, only to turn around and burn myself immediately afterwards.
Which leads me to my next thought **drumroll please**... a Theodore Roosevelt quote! (stay with me here, I promise this is related)
"It's not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs; who comes short again and again...who at the best knows in the end..if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly" - Theodore Roosevelt
If the arena is doing the work of eduction, on the ground, with the kids themselves...I'm certainly in the arena. Not just in the arena, but getting literally injured in the arena (and I bought the band aids with my own teacher paycheck). I have this image in my head of me running around the classroom, "face marred by dust" with a bandaid in one hand and a clipboard in the other. Actually...that's kind of how teaching feels like a lot of the time.
Needless to say, we're not using bunsen burners anymore this year (thank GOODNESS)
Besides physical injuries, the Roosevelt quote actually has to do with another idea: vulnerability. I first encountered the quote in Brene Brown's book Daring Greatly She writes about the importance of showing up as our true selves, and letting our true selves be seen....klutz and all. It's way harder, sometimes even more painful, than getting burned by a bunsen burner. And not just showing up with trivial things like clumsiness or embarrassment, but being authentic with my students, showing emotions and processing them with students, being honest with students, getting to the hard stuff of risk taking in the classroom with students. Failing at teaching. Letting my students fail. Letting an experiment fail and then processing why afterwards as a class. I always thought good role models don't fail. What would happen if our role models were truly real with us?
Failure stings- it's what causes students to shut down, feel scared, and lash out at themselves or others. Failure caused me incredible anxiety during my first year of teaching, and I quickly learned that teaching is the most vulnerable thing I've ever had to do. I'm learning to deal with that failure by stumbling, not falling. Easier said than done.