Saturday, March 4, 2017
Just When You Think You Totally Suck As a Teacher
I'll admit it. I've been feeling pretty discouraged professionally lately. Maybe it's just part of the COB (Cranky Old Broad) Syndrome I've been experiencing. I'm really not sure what has been causing it; all I know is that I have definitely been feeling it. I get the Sunday night blues big time, usually starting around 3:00 p.m. Monday morning arrives like a slap in the face, and I drag myself through my morning routine of coffee, shower, hair, and makeup, all the while chanting to myself like a disagreeable 3-year-old, "But I don't want to go!" I fantasize about retirement and all the home improvement and craft projects I'll do and all the time I'll spend reading. Then I remember I'm quite a few years and two kids' worth of college payments away from that fantasy.
So day after day I report for duty, teaching the best I can all the while trying to keep my class focused on learning. It isn't easy. Every lesson is interrupted with constant reminders: Turn around, the front of the room is over here. Sit down; the kids behind you can't see. You need to come out from under the desk and do your DLI. Pull a card, we don't say "What the hell" in our class. (Actually, I do on occasion, but only in my head. I hope.) Turn around, your friend isn't giving the directions. Focus your eyes on me, not inside your desk. Close the book, we're doing math now. Please stop flipping your marker. Is this really an emergency? You know you need to use the restroom during recess. Of course your Expo pen is dried out; that's what happens when you draw all over your whiteboard instead of just doing the math problems. Turn around and focus on your work. Let's not throw things at our friends. The list goes on and on. There have been moments that I would simply break down in tears if it weren't for 46 eyes in the room and the fact that I am an ugly crier. By the end of the day, I am left feeling exhausted, cranky, and like I totally suck. (Another word one of my students needs to be reminded not to use at school.)
Come to think of it, "discouraged" might be putting it lightly.
But then, a few things happened in the last few days that have me thinking maybe I'm not quite as sucky as I think. Little things, things that would be easy to miss. But maybe since I have challenged myself to write 31 blog posts this month, I'm just a little more perceptive than normal. (Could blogging lead to the development of a super power? One can only hope.)
Tuesdays are our days for computer lab. Which, really, is kind of silly, since we have access to Chromebooks now, so most everything I want to do I can do in our classroom.
But I digress.
This last week I had a few students who needed to get caught up on some previous blog posts, so I told those who were finished, they could write a new blog post about anything they wanted. I mean, it's their blog, they should be able to do that, right? As I was walking around (again, trying to keep certain ones on track and focused on their work and not on their neighbor), I noticed a few students writing poetry on their blog. That probably doesn't seem all that amazing, but the reason they were writing poetry was because I had just read aloud to them Love That Dog, by Sharon Creech, which is, of course, written in verse. They were actually inspired by a book I read aloud! I was stunned for a moment; whether it was from their writing of poetry or the fact that I felt that unfamiliar lift inside my heart that seemed to indicate I'd actually had a positive influence, I really cannot say. But I gave into the urge to smile while simultaneously resisting the urge to break out into a happy dance. I don't think the kids would have understood. (Or recognized it as dancing, for that matter.)
The other positive reinforcement this week also came from reading my students' free-choice blog posts. For the last couple of months, I've been giving the kids assignments for their blog. It was honestly just a desperate attempt on my part to get my class actually blogging. Each year I get them started on their blog, and each year it seems like I never really do much with them. So, I decided I would give them basically a cloze paragraph and they would fill in the blanks. Many of my students struggle with writing, and I thought this would be a good scaffold, teaching them the basic structure of a paragraph and give them practice using writing conventions, which they seem to forget on a regular basis. (They can tell you a sentence starts with a capital and ends with punctuation, but when it comes to actually doing it? Not so much.) Plus, it provides authentic keyboarding practice, preparing them for the upcoming SBAC testing. (Oh, yay!) I always include a question at the end of the paragraph for them to include, explaining that with a blog, you want to encourage conversation with your readers. This way, when students read each other's blogs, they can respond to the writer's question. As I was reading the posts written by my students, I was astonished to discover that many of them, though writing freely, used the same basic structure. They even included a question at the end! It would appear that they are paying more attention than I realize.
The final stone thrown to shatter my illusion of suckiness was discovered this morning. Drinking my coffee, I sat down at my computer. After scrolling through my Facebook feed, I switched over to my work email. (I know. It's the weekend. Why am I checking my work email? Just a compulsion I guess.) Anyway, today I am glad I did. For there, beckoning me, was an email from one of my students. It was an invitation to edit a Google Drawing.
In order for this to make sense, I need to give some background. We recently have been working on a project based on the Who Would Win series. Students researched their own animals, compared and contrasted them to their partner's researched animal, and ultimately decided which one would win in a battle between the two. We ended up with some interesting opponents! One of the things I had the students create was an infographic using Google Drawings. (I had recently attended a Google Summit, so I was feeling a bit techie.) The kids, of course, loved doing it! It was probably my one and only successful computer lesson of the year. They have never been so quiet and focused as they were when I was teaching them all the rather intricate steps of creating their infographic. So, yesterday, during Author's Chair, one of my students asked if she could share something she made at home. "Of course," I said. What she shared was her own Google Drawing she had made showing pictures of both animals with captions about each one. This was neither something I had shown them nor suggested. She had done this on her own, by choice, at home. Wow! I thought that was amazing. And then I opened my email this morning only to discover that another student had sent me one of her own, at 7:00 on a Friday night. Double wow! There was no denying it: there are actually students in my class going home and using what they learned to create and extend their own learning.
Would she have spent the time creating that if her classmate hadn't shared hers? It's doubtful. Would she have even known about it if I didn't make time each week for my students to share their writing? Probably not. And of course, neither one of them would have even thought to do it had I not one day decided to take a chance and try something new.
Lesson learned? It's easy to get discouraged, to feel like nothing you do is right or making a difference. At least it is for me. We all want our days to run smoothly and to have a class fully engaged and excited about learning. I read on a daily basis in articles and blog posts that this must be my goal, that it is possible. Perhaps that is the true source of my discouragement. I don't have 23 fully-engaged, enthusiastic learners completely focused on their learning all day long. And because of that, I feel like a failure.
It would appear, though, that I am the one who hasn't been paying attention. Because there is evidence that my students are learning and growing and engaged. Will I reach all my students? I wish I could, and I'm certainly not going to stop trying. But I need to stop being distracted by the noise and the idea of perfection (it gets me every time), and focus instead on the learning. Both theirs and mine.