Courage to Teach—Reflecting on Paradox in Teaching

About Lori H Rice

Lori Rice is a fourth-grade teacher at West Elementary in Wamego, Kansas, who has taught K-2 reading as well as kindergarten, first grade and fourth grade since 1996. She has a passion for creativity, learning, questioning and the whole child. Her classroom is a place of acceptance and celebrating differences.

photo (1)Professional development is only as good as the level of understanding, application, and synthesis accomplished by the participants.  You can learn an amazing amount of information, but if you do not apply this information, and internalize it to restructure your teaching, then it is time lost.  The hour and a half spent monthly with my Courage to Teach group is the type of professional development that grows exponentially and has  impacted my classroom beyond measure.

By October during the school year, conferences, changing weather, changing time- all of these things set in and can drain you crazy as a teacher.  The discussion of state testing,accountability and data driven evidence began to grow and overtake conversations skewing your reality in the classroom.  I struggle with this each year and find myself questioning why I am teaching and if this is the path I should remain on.

Last month in the Courage group we were invited to reflect and journal about  the best moment in our teaching career.  That moment that validated our decision to become teachers.  The moment that was so perfect, one would say, “Yes, this is what I am supposed to be doing.”  I sat and enjoyed the silence, jotting down memories in reverse order from present day back through teaching Bible school when I was a high school student.  We have those moments when students understand or get a topic for the first time.  We have students who pull our heart-strings and we want to take them home.  We have lessons we enjoy teaching and look forward to each year.  We have funny memories. As I  I reflected back through five years teaching fourth grade, eight years teaching first grade, two years teaching kindergarten, including a looping experience, my first two years of teaching , as a new teacher doing my student teaching, college classes, high school babysitting, there was not an A-HA moment.  There were so many memories and many students and so much greatness, but there was not a moment.

After talking about what open, honest questions are and are not, we broke into small groups and shared our moments.  Those in my group were simply asked to listen to the stories. I shared with the group, and felt a bit like a failure, that I could not come up with one moment.  I shared memories.  I remembered a little girl in first grade who was in my room for a week, and how she touched my heart.  The students who push and push and push but with whom I stood my ground and reached them.  The sense of always knowing this work is what I am called to do.

Other group members shared their stories and then we reflected back to each other the characteristics we heard described from each teachers memories.  We were asked specifically not to talk about the techniques of teaching, but the WHO of teaching.  The group reflected back to me that my stories were about the whole child.  I was determined, caring, creative, but it was always about the whole child.

Our second reflection and journal activity focused on the moment in teaching that made us question whether we were in the right profession.  A time when things went so poorly, so badly that we wondered why on earth we ever thought this was an option.  My mind began to wander through the path again.  I thought about assessments and the demand for all students to achieve and be compared to a number, discussion of policy and budget cuts that threaten to take music and art and physical education away from students who need these outlets so badly.  Again, I had no moment.  Five years ago I was about to leave the field but made a change in grade levels, building, and therefore administrators.  This adjustment was the right fit.  In the past two years I have felt that question rise again, should I leave?

The group shared out and as I was listening I head my inner teacher begin to scream…there is your conflict!  I teach to the whole child!  It is important to me to meet the needs of each student, differentiate, nurture, and teach the entire child and when the assessments and policy single out individual things that threaten the whole child, I feel the conflict.  I had an epiphany.

If I were a cartoon character you would have seen the stars floating above my head.  My heart would have been pounding out of my chest and my feet would have flown off of the floor.  Here I had been questioning why I was in education, but my inner teacher knows why–for the child.  Life is full of paradoxes.  Those things that seem contradictory especially in the light of common sense.  Here I found the struggle I had from within to teach the whole child, nurture, problem solve, use creativity, and reward effort versus understanding and knowledge and facts and recall at such a basic level as tested on state assessments that it is almost laughable.  When you take time to reflect and find the paradox you can shed deeper understanding on the situation.

This professional development has been more meaningful than any I have done.  It has allowed me to take time for myself to focus on my teaching and gain what I need as a professional.  Reflecting and asking open, honest questions in a group I can trust has led me down a new path and empowered me as a teacher.  I am doing what I should do.  I am here to teach and to love and to help and to question and to learn and to help them grow.   I am a teacher.

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By | 2016-11-01T14:38:20+00:00 January 29th, 2013|Featured|0 Comments

About the Author:

Lori Rice is a fourth-grade teacher at West Elementary in Wamego, Kansas, who has taught K-2 reading as well as kindergarten, first grade and fourth grade since 1996. She has a passion for creativity, learning, questioning and the whole child. Her classroom is a place of acceptance and celebrating differences.

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