The Power Of Confession

Teacher Confession: a historical examination written by Pastor Stephen Davis

A while ago the author of Red Lines and Highlights wrote a great post about the discrepancy between what he sees on the blogosphere and Twitter-sphere and what happens in his class.

For a lifetime I have felt the same. There has always been a huge disconnect between one’s idealism on Twitter and one’s reality in the classroom.

After much searching, I think I found where idealism and realism meet in the classroom.

The teacher confession.

A few months ago William Chamberlain posted a few tweets with the hashtag #teacherconfession. I don’t remember the exact tweet, but it was brutally honest and not the hyperbole many of us send out.

Within minutes, John Spencer began tweeting using the #teacherconfession hash tag. I started tweeting the hashtag, too. After a thirty or so minutes, there were many of us sharing what was truly on our minds and our hearts.

We were vulnerable.

It was cathartic and really enjoyable.

Time does what time does and life outside my brain happens.

I honestly forgot about William Chamberlain’s teacher confession until about 6:30 the Friday night before last year’s EdcampLA.

I sent out a quick tweet to John and William asking them about what they think about having session on teacher confession.  I immediately got great responses from John and William. A few other teachers tweeted that they would go, too,

I was excited.

I had nothing prepared.

No presentation.

No ideas.

No expectation of anyone showing up to the session….

…just years of burdens and feelings of inadequacy that was searching for something greater than the twitter element, the blogging element…

I was looking for the human element.

About thirty people showed up and I started by sharing a few confessions I had to set the tone. Once done, there was about five seconds of silence, not awkward silence, more of a pregnant silence that I could tell was positive.

For the next hour, people closed their computers, turned off their phones, and opened up their education world to complete strangers.

No blog posts.

No hashtags.

No flipped classrooms.

Just the simple humanity that affects each one of our education worlds.

***

Background: The importance of Confession in our lives written by Reverend David Theriault

Confession: as a recovering Catholic there are many things I miss about going to church: the transformational power of incense, the humility of kneeling, the community found in song. But what I miss most is the sacrament of confession.

InBruges

Brutal film: In Bruges 

I was brought up a devout Catholic. We went to church on Sundays, Mondays, even during the week in the summer. As a family we prayed the rosary at home and prayed publicly at restaurants. I even visited several seminaries in 8th grade, as I  strongly considered entering the path to priesthood. If you are not familiar with Catholicism, you should know there are several sacraments. Most of them are once in a lifetime events like baptism and confirmation, but some of them are regular events like communion, and the act of confession.

Confession in the Catholic Church is a pretty stressful experience. You sit in a line waiting to go in a tiny room with a priest and then you bare your soul. As a young kid I never had the guts to say anything really bad, I’d confess to stealing Ritz crackers without permission, or taking loose change from my mom’s purse. Confessing something big got even harder when the church went from confessing anonymously behind a partition, to confessing face to face.

It took me a while to get comfortable confessing face to face- the breakthrough happened in 11th grade when I told a priest, from another parish, (always tough confessing to priests you saw every day) a pretty hardcore sin and he told me “I can think of at least five things I’ve done that are worse than that.” I was kinda stunned- but it really helped me put my own faults in perspective.

There is a line near the end of The Scarlet Letter that perfectly sums up the  power of confession:  ”Be true! Be true! Be true! Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst may be inferred!” I preach to my students all the time that when we show others our weakness then we build community, we should others they are not alone in their struggle.

As teachers we struggle every day. There is no simple ledger sheet to check off each day. So there are many opportunities to make mistakes. Teaching is part science, part art, part spirituality, and far too often, “a leap of faith.”  When I saw my first “Teacher Confession” session on the session board at edcampLA I jumped at the opportunity to return to my favorite religious tradition. Stephen Davis was our confession leader- I’ll let him tell you how it got started.

Liturgy: How the session works (Pastor Stephen and Reverend David)

Put “Teacher Confession” on the session board. A few brave/curious souls will show up. I personally love that it’s usually a smaller group than other sessions in fact I think that if too many people show up you should split it into two rooms.

Get everyone is a small group and explain the meaning and background of teacher confession. Perhaps share why you feel it’s important to have a teacher confession session.

Set some ground rules:

  • What happens in teacher confession stays in teacher confession

  • We are all mandated reporters- try not to tell us anything we will need to write a report about

  • Put away cell phones and laptops (this one people will balk at)

Next, share a few confessions yourself to get the ball rolling. Perhaps something minor like: “I take a box, filled with papers to grade, home on Friday and bring the same box back on Monday ungraded.”

Then move onto to something bigger like: “I take that same box with me every weekend all semester- the same ungraded papers are inside- sometimes that box finds a home under my desk and is replaced by a newer box.

Perhaps finish off with one that’s difficult to get out. I’ve got more than my fair share. Stephen recommended having a few extra ones ready to go in case things slow down.

Sometimes hearing a certain confession will spark a memory that you buried deep inside, but that is still gnawing at your soul.

When I was done I said a few words, exonerated everyone of their “sins” and gave them a good-natured act of contrition. (Buy a doughnut for your toughest kid) Enjoy walking out with  a lightened soul. Resist the temptation to whisper to a friend “guess what so and so said in teacher confession.”

Metanoia: Why it works (Pastor Stephen and David)

It is where idealism and realism come together in the classroom.

Far deeper than being felt, the catharsis I and others experienced affected every aspect of our education world.

There is comfort in knowing you are not alone in your inadequacies, fears, and doubts as a teacher. This comfort is far more powerful than any type of technology.

The Book of Common Worship: Best Practices  

Confession cropped

edcampSD (San Diego)

  • I liked sitting in a tight circle with no devices open-it made people more open and less likely to tweet confessions

  • I really like that I don’t know everyone in the group. I’ve only been in a session with a friend once. He and I are best friends so there are no secrets. Unless you don’t mind a co-worker knowing your dark fears you might just want to go on your own, or perhaps this is exactly what the culture of your school needs: some blunt honesty.

  • If there are too many people I’d suggest splitting it into two. We did a session in the middle of an area of cubicles. You don’t need tech so you could even take the session outside. Or field trip it to a local church, river or wherever you find spiritual solace.

Benediction:

While we would love to be there for you whenever you need to enter into the teacherconfessional, we simply can’t. Whenever you feel the need to get some guilt off your chest, to build community, to show the world your less than best just tweet your confession and include the hashtag #teacherconfession

If you are feeling creative feel free to use the #teacherconfession on Instagram as well.

We created a website where we will feature blog posts, tweets, pictures and confessions around the concept of #teacherconfession you can find it at:

theteacherconfessional.wordpress.com

Here are some #teacherconfessions by David

  • I share my students best work, don’t you share your child’s best moments?
  • Not all of my student work looks like the work I share, if you teach, you know that.
  • My desk is rarely clean. I find papers by cross-linking time and depth.
  • Half of what I love about technology is that I can keep stuff without looking like a hoarder.
  • I question the quality of my teaching daily, hourly, sometimes by the minute.
  • I am probably not in the top ten top twenty teachers at my school in my department. I’m just an metacog who over-shares.
  • Every year I struggle to grade assignments on time. Every summer I think I’ve found the answer.
  • Every year I tell myself “this year will be my best year yet.” by June I’m usually disappointed in how everything turned out.
  • When I see educators making fun of teachers who want a quiet class, I wonder… have you ever taught in a too small room with 38 teenagers and no carpet to muffle the echoes?
  • Sometimes I take my class outside because noise has a place to escape.
  • Sometimes I buy donuts for my co-workers for sins past and future.
  • 70% (or more, or less… who knows) of anything cool you see me share online is just because I’m willing to believe in my students and get out of their way. It has nothing to do with that lesson plan or rubric you want me to share with you.
  • Often I wonder if I should write/share less, and grade more.
  • One time, at an edcamp, the teacher confession got really, really heavy and everyone got a little uncomfortable. I’m not so sure everyone enjoyed that experience. We cannot guarantee a perfect outcome to the experience, but when it works, it’s pretty rad.

Examples of other #teacherconfession parishioners tweets

Spencer

Tom

Paul

Peace and good lessons be with you…

*#teacherconfession this post originally appeared on a rarely visited blog experiment, about oh… two years ago. We got a little too busy with various projects and life to ever turn that site into what we had imagined we would.

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