What Does it Mean to be a Creative Teacher?

Do you consider yourself creative? I think that the only way to teach is to teach creatively. So how can we be a creative teacher?

First of all, I think it’s important to be reminded that creativity doesn’t only mean colorful pallets and having excellent fine motor skills. Creativity is better defined as the ability to conjure up something, anything, unique. To bring into existence something that wasn’t there before.

I would almost argue that teaching is one of the most creative careers there is. I don’t doubt that one of the reasons we all groan at the thought of extensive PD trainings is because no matter how much practical knowledge we’re taught, at the end of the day we still solve countless problems through our own creative processes. Every class and every student requires a unique, unsystematic approach.

Teachers are genius problem solvers! We do it thousands of times a day!

That’s not to dismiss academia! As Einstein famously said, “Creativity is intelligence having fun.” The intelligence must come first, so don’t go totally roque on me. Research is research.

This creative, problem solving process looks different for everyone. Some ask for lots of opinions, some close themselves off. Some like to wake up at 5am, some rush in after the first bell. Some need everything color coded to calm their mind enough to think, others thrive with a desk that looks like the photos you see of abandoned buildings years after a natural disaster drove out all human life. To that end, I will briefly say that just as we respect the quirks of musicians and painters, let us also accept one another in this profession. Judgement has no room in career that should allow all personality types to flourish.

As a TpT author and (recently) blogger, I’ve started to take this idea of creativity a little bit more seriously. It’s my professional expansion into these mediums of production that has led me to finally realize and eventually accept that I’ve actually always been creative.

As I listen to podcast after podcast devoted to the process of building a small business in the year of our Lord 2019, I’m continually struck by the same, somewhat difficult to swallow fact: in these modern times, there is a need for one type of business alone. All others will be swallowed up by corporate giants or worse, automated. And that kind of business is the one that is unprogrammable. It’s a business of creativity.

Creative businesses can look as different as photography does from computer programming. Perhaps that’s a big part of the reason why we, as teachers, have no fear as technology continues to envelop so much of the workforce and jobs continue to be outsourced. We know we work in one of the irreplaceable jobs because we work in creativity.

One phrase I constantly repeat is that you cannot be creative when you’re drowning. This has two major implications: (1) you as a teacher have a responsibility to do whatever it takes to keep your head above water and (2) your administration has a responsibility to do whatever it takes to keep the heads of their teachers above water.

Let’s start with the things we can control. Ourselves. If you’re coming to work exhausted because of things going on in your personal life or lack of sleep or both, you’re not going to have an easy time being creative. Therefore, you’re not going to be very good at this job. Like all of the great creatives, being really good at this is going to take all of you.

Choices you make in your “free” time will affect your ability to do this job. If that bothers you, you might need to find another career. I’m sorry to be that harsh about it, but if you’re still mad about this then maybe someone needs to.

Avoidance also blocks your creativity, so the best thing you can do if you’re having a hard time at work is to actually think about it. Or, as Einstein would say, maybe not think about it.

Regardless, you need to set yourself up to find solutions. Avoiding your problems won’t help. We’re all adults by now and we know our personal favorites as far as avoidance methods. That’s not going to cut it anymore.

I’m only writing these paragraphs because I’ve seen it happen and it’s heartbreaking. I had a friend who really struggled with classroom management, and I don’t blame him for wanting to switch off after work. Neglecting to take even small steps towards solutions, though, won’t get any of us where we want to be. Personally or professionally.

Additionally, on another note, I’ve been wanting to say this publicly for a while. Administration plays a big role in keeping their teachers’ heads above water. Creativity requires space. Space to breath, space to think, space to follow a tangent, and space to fail.

Giving space requires trust. Filling teachers’ free time with menial tasks or unnecessary meetings/PD doesn’t feel like trust. On our end, fulfilling these added responsibilities means that we’re not only more exhausted (limiting creativity), but also more busy (limiting creativity). Evaluation methods that blame teachers rather than help them succeed doesn’t feel like trust. If I’m afraid of being seen failing, I may not try. If I don’t try new things, students ultimately suffer.

Dare I say it? Exhausted teachers means less unique solutions. Less classroom management problems solved. Less fun and engaging lessons. Less alternative assessment. Less collaboration. Less cross curricular connections.

A lot of the aspects of our jobs aren’t systematic, they’re creative! We need time and space to pursue the creative process in our own unique ways.