Where have you come from (in terms of geography, expertise, philosophy — however you choose to interpret this question) and how do you think that influences the teacher you will become?
"Ni Shi Na Guo Ren?" You are what place's person? When I first arrived in Beijing two years ago, the appropriate answer was, "we are Americans". Actually that is still the appropriate answer, but I can usually get a good chuckle, and much better deals from local vendors, when I respond, "Wo shi Beijing ren". I live in Beijing.
Prior to moving to China I spent my career in high schools around Virginia: Richmond, Fairfax, Fauquier. No matter what school I'm in, I always start my first day with my go-to lesson, S.M.A.R.T. Goals. The long and short of the assignment is that we all brainstorm what our life will be like in 10 years, 5 years or 1 year. The students cover a variety of subjects, usually related to their likes and interests: In five years I will move out of Warrenton, or When I am 23 I will be in the NBA, or When I am 18 I will be a freshman at George Mason University. At the end of class the students groan at their first homework of the year, "type up your S.M.A.R.T. goals and bring them back tomorrow with a self addressed stamped envelope. Make sure each goal is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timed." A bit corny I know, but it gets the job done. I can walk in there on the first day and create a certain trust with my students, make personal connections with their lives, break the ice a little and do some of my own personal reflection. Not only that, but I really enjoy it; it always seems to work, and it introduces some of the writing process we will use throughout the class.
I was introduced to the idea in a professional development workshop while working my first job in Richmond, Virginia. Richmond was my first stop after James Madison University, which was my first stop after leaving 2028 Chester Ave, Abington, PA. I was born in Abington, climbed the apple tree there, cut the grass there, played hockey in the street there, learned to drive- and crash - my first car there; I even married my bride there. Abington, Pennsylvania, a suburb to the north of Philadelphia - I guess that is where I am from. After all, Mom and Dad still live there and I continue to write in my S.M.A.R.T. Goals, "In 5 years I will own season tickets to the Phillies".
I also write things like, "In 5 years, when I am 28, I will have a Harley Davidson" or "when I am 40, I will own a restaurant" or "In 10 years I will own a beach house." I love to dream those dreams, and I hope I will continue to, but when I think of those dreams I can't help but recall a distinct change that occurred in my first-day-of-school lesson - I had sons of my own. I no longer could even think about 10, 5 or even 1 year out without first thinking, In ten years Parker will be...or Devon will be...or Bennett...
Those boys, the greatest and most challenging people I have ever met, changed me. After about the 12th time writing, "In 10 years I will step foot on every continent," I had a moment - Is this gonna happen - ever. I mean, I have been saying this, class in and class out, for 12 years and here I am in 12th grade English in Virginia - a great place to be, certainly - but I'm not making any progress towards this "goal" that I keep modeling for my students.
Then my wife said(in many conversations over many weeks) We have an opportunity to move, but you'd have to give up everything, and look at it as an adventure, and we have to be in total agreement that it is the right thing to do, and you probably won't be able to work or teach... All I could think was...this is my chance. Finally I could do what I have been asking my students to do. Dream big, make a S.M.A.R.T. goal out of it, and do it!
This week I will mail those last few piles envelopes containing neatly typed lists of 10, 5 and 1 year goals. Most of the recipients will get them when they return home for Spring Break from their Freshman or Sophomore year of college. I imagine they will tear them open, probably with a chuckle or an,"I cant believe I thought that." Maybe some of them will write new goals. It's all good. A couple of them will tweet or FB about it, and maybe this year I'll get an Instagram photo of one. This time though, one thing will be different. Their letters will be postmarked Beijing China, and maybe one or two will think, man, Mr. Koch is out living his dream.
Paul Koch (@pkoch9999)