August 2018

On New Academic Year Resolutions

For most of us, new year resolutions are associated with the “unrealistically” high expectations and activities we will fail to keep up with by the third week of January. Lose 20 lbs by the end of the first week of January, cook from scratch each and every meal and only eat healthy, wake up at 5 am and exercise daily, read daily and never waste time on the internet. These are all great, but they are most often created to make us feel good about us and our future and not to feel sad about another year’s passing… This is the reason I do not have grandiose new year resolutions and if I do, I try to make them as realistic and easy to follow as I can – big things are often achieved when one perseveres and works on big goals step by step (or as they say in German “Schritt für Schritt”). For example, I decided that my Fitbit will help me walk every day 11,500 steps or my Duolingo app will keep me accountable for learning languages daily – even for only a few minutes a day. It doesn’t mean I will be running marathons by the end of the year or speaking German fluently, but I will become gradually better.

However, for me, new year starts not only once a year, but twice or even trice a year. Once in January, once in September, and once in late September or early October. Probably the most exciting “New Year Celebration” for me begins in September when I meet my new students. For the last quarter century, I have been a teacher. I have been teaching in different capacities and in different countries – in middle schools, high schools, at university Science Faculties, as well as at the Faculty of Education. I think since I started working with new science and mathematics teachers at UBC, my September New Year has become the biggest celebration of all.

So what am I looking for this new academic year? What do I expect from myself? What would I have liked to see in my classroom? And what are my new academic year resolutions that I hope I will be able to keep?

  1. My first resolution is to slow down and to learn to listen to my students. I hope to be able to inspire my students to become the best physics teachers they can be. I do not need them to be like somebody else or like me, they need to understand their own strengths and weaknesses and learn to be the best they can. To help them to do that and to keep improving myself, I would like to be better organized and most importantly to learn to slow down and to listen better to my students. So my new academic year resolution #1 is to learn to listen better. I know it is often hard for me as I am trying to do more, and to share more, and to show more. But I often forget to slow down and to listen. This year I will try to keep working at it by forcing myself to listen actively and not to try to interrupt my students or to respond right away.
  2. My second resolution is to keep learning and to make sure I am not only doing the things that I am comfortable with. When one teaches for a long time, we become comfortable with the way we are doing things and we often stop learning new things. I do know a lot about science and mathematics teaching and learning but I have even more to learn. I promise to myself to keep learning from my students, colleagues, literature, and the world around me.
  3. My third resolution is to allow myself and my students more room for error: to make mistakes, figure them out, and let go of them. Sometimes we are expecting too much from ourselves and this also makes us less willing to take risks. I think we have to take risks in education and risk taking means we might make mistakes. I hope that this year I will be more forgiving to myself for making some small mistakes. To achieve this goal I will need to make an additional new year resolution.
  4. My fourth resolution is to work on creating an environment of trust and respect in my courses. I will keep working at building an environment of trust in my classroom. Trust means reliance on integrity, strength, ability of a person, an expectation of confidence and hope. I am convinced that trust is a key of being an effective teacher, or being a Teacher with a capital T. I have to work my hardest to establish the environment of trust in my courses where we collaborate to support each one of us to become the best educators we can be.

I would like to wish all my students and colleagues a wonderful new academic year. May it bring you joy, personal fulfillment and satisfaction.

This is how September 1st looked like in the country where I grew up – in the Soviet Union.

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