This morning as I was embarking on my morning run/walk, I encountered a hill that was in my way to becoming a more confident runner. The sheer enormity of knowing that I would have to run the entire hill was enough to mentally take me out, but something in me kept telling me to “keep going”. I slowly started jogging then I took my pace up a notch as it became evident I would have to increase my speed (and determination) to get this hill in my rearview mirror. As my body parts jiggled and my conscience considered giving up, something “clicked” inside of me and before I knew it, not only was the hill behind me, but I was happy that I had accomplished my small goal of remaking it over the other side of the hill. As I stopped to “catch” my breath before I ran the next two miles home, I thought t how this small victory of mine was indicative of how educators feel after conquering a semester of school, yet knowing they still have another semester to go. We’ve made it over the “hump” and now it’s time to figure out how we can make the second semester as (or even more) productive as the first.
One key component of having a great semester is learning that there are lessons that every teacher MUST take into this year in order not to leave in May or June totally deflated wondering if you’ll come back the following year.
1. Sometimes no matter what you do, you can not change everyone’s outcome. As a teacher who cares about all of her students, this is a hard truth I have had to realize to emotionally protect myself. Let me explain. Well into my seventh year of teaching, a student said something that made me truly realize the mindset that some students come to school with. We were discussing choices and after he finished telling me about his brother serving 10 years for robbery when he said, “that’s why my dad said I should have been with him instead of his friends–that way he wouldn’t be in jail right now. I would have never told on him.” While I was floored that a fellow parent would encourage their child to be involved in crime, I wasn’t shocked. This same student came to me as a sixteen year old first time ninth grader who entered high school 30 days later than his classmates because he was waiting to be socially promoted from his middle school. One would think this child would be a problem, but actually he was quite pleasant. His issue was that at some point in his short life that he had been perpetually abandoned by his parents and made to be an adult years before it was time for him to be one. Now whose fault was that? As much as I wanted to take this child home with me and protect him from his own parents, I knew that I had to back away and support this student from a distance. Eventually frustrated with how far behind he was, he left school and despite my attempts of not caring, I went home and cried for that student and his future.
2. Being an educator does not make us the judge and jury of a student and/or family’s life. As an educator we unfortunately see many families and students at their worse times during the year. Watching horrific events unfold can make us feel as if we can better parent children than their natural parent. While that may be true (in some cases) it’s no cause for us to think that we’re better than any parent or student in any circumstance. Instead we should recognize that parenting is hard and being a parent in poverty is even harder. So the next time we want to judge that child who isn’t dressed appropriately for the weather or who doesn’t smell like roses, we should instead say a little prayer for that parent and child and see if there are any services for that child available through the school.
3. Boys are different from girls- not just from the anatomical basics but mentally. Many times when we have boys in our classrooms we treat them the same as we treat the girls in class completely ignoring the research that shows that boys learn differently. To name a few strategies, boys need more hands on activities, time for recess and more male teachers in the classroom. If we know all of that, school communities must look at how to properly educate our boys or they will continue to drop out in droves and increasingly becoming enthralled in the prison culture.
4. Students with disabilities do not have a deficit, they simply learn differently. For many teachers this is a difficult concept to grasp, because throughout all of our teacher preparation classes, we’ve learned that the word disability means a deficit. However, what we changed the way we thought about the word disability and it simply meant that these students learn differently? Instead of thinking about what students can’t do, think about different ways we can make them successful. To some this thought is simplistic, but in reality if we can get all educators to embrace this concept we can change how students with disabilities are treated.
5. If we continue to allow non educators make laws that affect us negatively in the classroom, nothing will change. So many times we see idiotic policies/laws put in place by people who have never taught a class or whose experience is so minimal it’s laughable if they’ve even had an impact on any student. If we know that these “ed reformers” are not good for education, then why do we allow them to affect what’s happening in the classroom? Why aren’t more teachers running for elected office, invading their local school board meetings, writing editorials and seamlessly taking a stand against all of the parties that seek to ‘divide and conquer’ public education?
In conclusion, we are the experts in the classroom and in order to preserve our craft and recognize our influence we have to use these lessons to shape us this second semester of school.