How the Joker Almost Got Me: A Reflection After Reading The Wild Card

Like much of the teaching world, I eagerly counted down the days until Hope and Wade King's "The Wild Card: 7 Steps to an Educator's Creative Breakthrough" was released. I even ordered a physical copy, something this Kindle-loving lady does very rarely (if you want to get your hands on your own copy, make sure to read all the way to the end of the post)! There's some books that just beg for highlights and sticky notes, am I right?

And highlight and sticky note I did! Hope and Wade poured their hearts and souls into this book, sharing not only personal stories but many practical ideas you can use to jumpstart student engagement in your class immediately. By the time I finished, I had learned some new things (um, these two identify themselves as introverts? This made my INFJ heart flutter!), felt reaffirmed about some of my beliefs, and found at least one thing I wanted to start doing in my classroom right away!

How the Joker Almost Got Me: A Wild Card Book Review
This is a book that begs for sticky notes!
However, this post is not a sales pitch. The Kings are already blowing up Amazon and they certainly don't need my help to sell books! I'm writing this post because this book really resonated with me. See, at one point a few years back, I started listening to the Joker...and that silly fool almost ended my career. I am proof that the Joker can come for you, but you can push back, tune that fool's voice out, and be the educator that your kids need you to be!

How the Joker Found Me

I spent the first nine years of my teaching career at a school similar to Hope and Wade's Pendleton Elementary. Low scores, low parental involvement, student turmoil, scripted curriculum, curriculum changes every time you I was reading the parts of the book where the Kings talked about their first teaching position, it was like a window back into my old world. I LOVED (and still love) the kids and families I worked with, but my strength is my creativity...and I wasn't allowed to use my strength as much as I wanted. For every idea I was able to put into action, there were 10 more that I wasn't allowed to do. There were constantly people with questionable credentials wandering around my class with a checklist, just so they could tell me what I was doing wrong. It became an every-teacher-is-on-the-same-page-at-the-same-time vibe, and I just don't work that way.

I had an opportunity to move to a different school, so I jumped at it. At first, it seemed like a dream. My principal is basically the opposite of the the leadership at my old school. She encourages us to step outside of the box and teach the way that works best for us. I had all the freedom I wanted, content-wise. There is also an incredible amount of parental involvement, which I certainly did not experience at my old school.

However, as with all transitions in life, there were challenges. I put a lot of pride and time into developing relationships at my old school. I was well-known and well-liked by the students there, but here I was starting all over again (during my first Meet and Greet, a parent told me her daughter "cried all night" when she found out she wasn't in the other 4th grade class...gee, thanks!).  In addition, anyone who knows me knows I love to have fun with teaching but I am NO was very hard to get my students on the same page as me. I very much identified with the part of the book where Hope and Wade were describing their move to RCA. Throwing yourself into a new environment is tough!

I adjusted well enough, but I wasn't too motivated to exercise my new creative freedoms. The fun items I brought in to change things up were quickly destroyed. Any time I tried to do a more creative activity, I was met with indifference at best and defiance at worst. I was struggling to connect with my new students. I floated through a few years without feeling that spark I wanted to year. I questioned the move, because for all the problems I had at my prior school, I at least felt I was making an impact.

Then, 3 years ago, everything came to a head. I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, and had to learn how to manage that on top of having the absolute worst year of teaching I have ever known. My students were extremely low, I had the type of behavior issues that case studies have been written about, and I was DRAINED. Enter the Joker.

What the Joker Said to Me

What is the Joker? Hope and Wade state that "The Joker is the internal dialogue of doubt, that voice inside your head that tells you nothing is good enough." For that whole year, the Joker's internal dialogue was my ONLY internal dialogue. He was there when I was crying in my car on the way to work, or on the way home (it was a rare day when I didn't cry at all). He was there at night, keeping me up when I needed sleep to rest my body and my soul. He was there next to me while I was in front of my class, in staff meetings, and at after school events. The Joker was my constant companion.

He would say things like,

Kids don't need teachers with depression. 

You don't even have your own life together. How can you be a positive influence to a child?

That idea you saw on Instagram? Your kids will hate it.

Don't stand out too much. Your colleagues won't like it.

You have no impact. You should just give up and do something else.

Around November, things came to a head, and I almost listened to the Joker. Almost.

How I Beat the Joker

You might be one of the thousands of teachers who (like I once did) feel like the deck of cards is just stacked against you. I once firmly believed that the world was just out to get me and keep me from being the teacher I wanted to be.

It's not.

Like Hope and Wade advocate in the book, I had to have some tough conversations with myself. Starting with, Would I want to be a student in my own class? Unfortunately, the answer was a resounding NO. Then, and this is the powerful part, I had to think about what I could do to change it. They key word in that sentence? "I." While there were some things going on that year that I could not change, there were others I could, and I knew I was making excuses about why I couldn't.

I could change my attitude. I made an effort to smile at my students more (I have "resting-blank face" so this is something I have to actively remember to do!). I started giving out more hugs. I praised every small little thing I could.

I could change my expectations. When life beats you down, your expectations go down, too. I made sure to practice soft skills like shaking hands, eye contact, no interruptions when others are talking. I was firm about what I wanted and we practiced until it was correct.

I could change the classroom environment. We started working more in collaborative groups. I attempted games...sometimes they were an epic failure, but I tried! I started planning fun, but still standards-based activities like a huge April Fool's prank that these kids still talk about to this day.

Serenading the Lirpaloof, the mystical bird that only makes an appearance on April Fool's Day!
Most importantly, I could forget this entire school year happened and start fresh next year. Hope and Wade say, "Just because the Joker fooled you once doesn't mean you have to give up completely," and this is the truth! I am a teacher. It's in my blood and I wasn't ready to give it up. So I stood up tall, looked the Joker in the eye, and said, "Goodbye." Then, I started to make changes.

Enter Engagement

With the year from you-know-where behind me, I started looking for inspiration. Like many, I found it on Instagram, in particular on Hope's page. Step one was creating a classroom environment that gave me life. I have to spend 40+ hours a week there, so I need it to be a place I want to be! I was given permission to paint the walls a soothing sky blue, and I paired that with black and white accents, and tons of quotes and books. I also jumped 100% into the flexible seating world, because it truly fits my classroom philosophy and I was ready to take on the challenges.

My (messy) happy place!
Next up, remembering my WHY. What do I want my kids to remember about me in five years? I want them to remember that learning and reading are FUN activities, not chores. I started planning lessons, routines, and procedures to hold their attention. As much as I love and need routines, I also want to keep my students on their toes! I try to come up with new ways to do things as much as possible.

Once I was comfortable with my room and my lessons, it was time to step out of my comfort zone to plan a room transformation. This would require dressing up and being in character, and these are NOT things I'm comfortable with. However, I gritted my teeth and went for it, and guess what? I lived to see another day. Not only that, the kids were PUMPED because they knew how far I had to stretch myself to wear any type of "costume." Although they may not have verbalized it, they were touched I would do something like that for them.

Sentence Surgeons!

Once I opened my mind to the power of student engagement, a funny thing happened. I started feeling that teacher mojo again- you know what I'm talking about. My smiles are genuine and frequent. I began to develop those relationships with the students and their families that I was missing from my old school.

There are a lot of teachers who say they are teachers, not entertainers...I used to be one of them. And if you know me, you know I am not a person who seeks attention. However, I have an audience in my classroom every day, and I need to put them first. They need something to hook them beyond worksheets and standards (because there is not one child in the world who cares about worksheets and standards). It's my job to figure out what keeps them hooked, and use it. If it means wearing scrubs and a surgical mask, so be it!

Enough about me! Want to see what The Wild Card is about all for yourself? Enter to win below! I hope you will find ways to use your own personal brand of creativity in your classroom and keep the Joker at bay!

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  1. You are still and will always be an inspiration to me. Thank you so much for your sound advice, your silent strength, your awesome professionalism and most importantly, your love for your students. You are my HERO��

  2. This post really hit home tonight. Thank you!

    1. I'm so happy to hear that! Thank you for letting me know :)

  3. I love to use games in my classroom!

  4. I loved reading your thoughts and story! Thank you for sharing. I, like Adri, like to use games in my classroom or make learning into a game. My kids are really competitive.

    1. Thank you for this sweet comment! My kids really enjoy games, too!

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Sorry I had a typo and could not figure out how to edit it so I deleted my comment. I think this post is great!! I did not get the book yet but now I think I need it!! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you so much for commenting! It is a wonderful book!

  7. I have just begun to read the book and I am inspired.


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