Have you ever had that feeling of absolute excitement when you walk out from a professional development session? The feeling of optimism and possibility and so many new things to try for your students. Our team has had two professional development sessions over the past week and I’ve walked out of both feeling like I have lots left to learn and so many new things I’d like to do better for my students. Here are some of my reflections…
If you think you have an accurate assessment of how your school is doing, but you haven’t asked your students… you don’t have an accurate assessment.
-Amy Fast, @fastcranny
When we discuss the bigger picture of teaching and why we do what we do, we generally talk about how the central element is the students. We plan for our students, we assess our students’ learning and our own professional development is often for the sake of enhancing our students’ experiences. However, when it comes to thinking about what to improve or how our schools and teachers can get stronger, we don’t collect students’ thoughts as often as we should. If our kids are the reason we’re here, then why not ask them what we can do better?
Teaching is a difficult job. In every class, I face a wide range of learning levels, personalities, and skills to engage. Every week is different based on how life might be going at that time…for the students and for myself. It’s perfectly normal, then, that there are times when I feel I’m just not doing enough, saying enough, planning enough, etc.
That feeling has hit me quite recently. I look through other teachers’ lesson plans and wonder why I have trouble being as creative, or I show impatience with a misbehaving student and wonder why I can’t shower my students with love and laughter more. Of course, we all have bad days and days when there’s so much that needs to be done that we don’t have time to address things in the way we would like, but I’ve been a bit disappointed in myself for not having more patience or more creativity or more whatever else I think an ideal teacher would have.
I love my job. 6 years ago, when I started working, I lived alone in a city where I didn’t know many people. Thus, my work became my entire life. I had the time and energy and motivation to work many more hours than my job required in order to stay on top of lesson planning or do extra research and increase my own knowledge. It was a wonderful life. However, ever since then, I was also told by society that I needed to have some sort of “balance” and that my work being my life = me being a workaholic (with a necessarily negative connotation).
Classes have officially begun for the 2017-2018 year! This year, I am teaching two groups of 9th graders who couldn’t be more different from one another. One class has only gone up to 4 students thus far while the other is a packed classroom full of 20 students. It’s only been a couple of weeks so far, but I’m already starting to see how my planning will need to change based on not only the differences in students, but also just the size of the classrooms.
This size difference is a factor I haven’t had too much variety in over the past few years, and so this is new territory for me. In come several Google searches relating to tips for teaching very large or very small classes. The articles I’ve come across don’t necessarily offer a lot in the “small class” category, as small classes in most secular school systems mean less than 15-20 students, not as small as 4, but there are definitely some good points to reflect on as I plan future classes.
The middle of July always brings about some anxiety for teachers as we prepare to start the next school year. After 5 years of continuous work, even over the summer, I spent half of this summer not thinking about my own teaching and coaching much. I still participated in summer camps and other community events, but today is the first day I’m trying to start thinking about the beginning of the school year so I can get back into “work mode.”
Classes are over. Students are no longer seen weekly and lesson plans no longer need to be written…at least for a few months. Despite the end of the school year, our system continues to work for about 3 weeks (depending on where you are in the country) so we’re still going for another week. By now, we’re all pretty much exhausted and focused on the light at the end of the tunnel that is at the end of this last week of (official) work.
Due to the exhaustion, as well as other factors of course, stress is high and emotions are on a roller coaster. This last week will involve curriculum planning for our upcoming school year, which involves working in small teams and in the whole group to align the curriculum we’re teaching for each grade level. Although individual work can be stressful, it is often group work for me that becomes extremely taxing. Managing various opinions, background experiences and aspirations becomes difficult and as a teacher lead within my city, I have to be more aware of how I react.
As the end of the school year approaches (more rapidly than I can keep track of), I usually start a process of wondering what my impact was this year. I teach about 32 students and coach 4 teachers, as well as working on other system-wide projects and programs. I teach religious education in a supplementary setting, which means students don’t often want to be there and attend on weeknights or weekends. So, what then is my impact on the lives of these people I interact with?
A recent Brainpickings article referenced work by Erich Fromm who wrote about the art of listening and the rules to follow in order to do it unselfishly. Fromm discusses how listening develops a relationship between two people and that relationship is based on love. He also mentions how this love is necessary for unselfish listening to happen. His rules of listening and his thoughts on the listening process made me think about the relationships between colleagues, between teacher and student, between coach and teacher. Take a look at Fromm’s rules below:
- The basic rule for practicing this art is the complete concentration of the listener.
- Nothing of importance must be on his mind, he must be optimally free from anxiety as well as from greed.
- He must possess a freely-working imagination which is sufficiently concrete to be expressed in words.
- He must be endowed with a capacity for empathy with another person and strong enough to feel the experience of the other as if it were his own.
- The condition for such empathy is a crucial facet of the capacity for love. To understand another means to love him — not in the erotic sense but in the sense of reaching out to him and of overcoming the fear of losing oneself.
- Understanding and loving are inseparable. If they are separate, it is a cerebral process and the door to essential understanding remains closed.
Here’s to thinking about listening in a different way.
Susan Engel, in an article for The Atlantic, said “Human lives are governed by the desire to experience joy. Becoming educated should not require giving up joy but rather lead to finding joy in new kinds of things…” Joy is something I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on lately, because it’s come up in so many conversations. When our team discusses the progress and growth of our teachers, it’s rare to see joy come into the picture. When we discuss our students’ growth and experience in the classroom, joy is a word we don’t often use to describe it.
The type of joy that Engel describes, the ability to be deeply absorbed by something, seems hard to find as adults. We are so engrossed in work and bills and other responsibilities that taking time out for pure joy and pleasure seems almost impossible at times. Where children have an easy time of finding things to be awed by, we take much of our world for granted.