Great Expectations

When teaching a new skill, a new concept, anything, we do not expect the student to understand right away.  Often we do not expect perfection on even the tenth time through.  And yet I found myself this week, frustrated at how many areas of teaching I need to improve.

Discussing this frustration, with an impending test that can impact my pay scale, it was brought up that I would never expect my students to have it right the very first time through.  Why do I expect anything different from my first year?  Putting the experience so far in perspective, I have not taught through November, through Thanksgiving or other holidays, have not seen what happens after winter break.  This is all new territory.  As much as I have been learning and growing over the last three months, I do not have the experience with kids during other seasons, weather patterns, holidays, etc.  No one expects that I will be perfect (far from it) in the first year, I need to give myself a little breathing room to enjoy everything that is coming.

It is difficult to remember not to beat yourself up at times.  (Do those years of college and long discussions, ideas about education not count for any experience?)  That moment of realization too late to change what was just said, fixing the lesson that just happened, reflecting on that discussion in a college course about something really important you just missed.  After three months in other jobs, I had the system worked out, a few questions here and there.  Not so with teaching.  The most difficult is wondering whether or not I said the right thing in moments when students come to you to talk.  Bullying on the playground, frustration over a game of four square, having a rough day because grandma passed away, or any number of other variables in life.  I hope to be a positive influence and take these moments seriously.  We must remember it is always up to the individual what they choose to take from what others say.

The last part is time and energy.  Monday through Friday I am at school from 6:30am until usually 5:30-6:00pm.  Prepping, writing and reworking lessons, adding music terms to my walls, keeping track of band attendance, finding music to sing, listen to, play instruments with, and I could keep listing the massive variety of tasks.  Nearly twelve hours and when I am home, there is not much energy left to focus on anything besides some shows on Netflix.  I still think about school, in fact most nights I’ll wake up around two or three with thoughts running through about the next day.  I catch myself being bummed about not taking that down time and turning it into more work time.  Why should I have a life, I have students that need to learn!

A little perspective to keep me sane.  We are not infallible.  Humans need to recharge and cannot work nonstop forever.  Be positive about all the new experiences as they unfold and take time to appreciate the growth.  Allow time to be the student, learn and keep trying until it is right.  Then be flexible to make it work for whoever you have in front of you!

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What is the goal?

A third grader had a meltdown in one of my classes this week.  I looked over while everyone was working quietly in groups to see her crying in a corner, then was immediately notified by about four others that “She’s crying!”

There are so many pieces in the teacher’s job description.  Kids are developing, they have lives that impact what happens while they are in school.  We push and push to have data to show what they are learning, how much progress they have made in math or reading, awards for doing the best on tests, and test and test and test.  When are we giving them time to be kids?  What is the goal for teachers?  Administration?  A school district?

After sending the ‘reporters’ back to work, I went over and asked what was wrong.  No response.  I prodded again and said it would be okay to sit out, breathe, and collect herself.  Then the story came flooding out.  I was not able to make out every piece, but the gist was that her mom was just deployed somewhere else and a few of her friends were poking fun at her while she was already feeling bad about that.  Gave her a hug, told her it was okay to feel bad, let her know she could sit for a bit if she wanted, but she hopped right back in with her group and participated the rest of class.

As we grow into adulthood, a big realization is that we are all simply wandering, trying to understand and find our place in the world.  Just like developing young minds, we have a regular struggle in determining who we are, what we intend, and then, in turn, what we decide to do in varying circumstances.  So sitting in class, doling out lessons that are hopefully engaging and meaningful, when a student is having a difficult time, I have a split second to decide a course of action.  I have to remember my goal.

A little later in the day I stopped by the counselor’s office to talk about what happened with the third grader.  I asked if she had been in to see either the military counselor or the regular counselor.  Nope.  Apparently she seemed just fine at recess, too.  The next day, when I was out for recess duty, she came up and hugged me while talking about some silly game she was playing with her friends.  She was there and then gone in a moment to go play.  Maybe all she needed was someone to listen, or a place to talk.  In any case, I feel I met my goal that day.

How do you measure the impact of moments like these?  Where is the data on emotional development?  It has been nearly three months since I started this position and already I can count numerous moments like this.  My fear is that collectively, we are turning the students, the people involved in education into numbers and statistics.  Who has the most teacher turnover, what school has the highest math scores, give more money to the schools doing well on the next big test.  Yes, statistics can tell us many things, but those numbers cannot show the people involved, whether or not a student had breakfast that day, if a parent went to jail, if the teacher used the same language as a test to teach a concept, and often whether or not a student can actually perform the skill they are answering a multiple choice question about.

What do we miss when the focus is on numbers and results?  Is the goal to build citizens or scores?  One will eventually beget the other, but not the other way around.