There are some things about fear and bravery and teaching that I still haven’t completely ironed out.
A zillion quotes from John Holt’s How Children Fail to get things started, here:
“I asked them why they felt gulpish. They said they were afraid of failing, afraid of being kept back, afraid of being called stupid, afraid of feeling themselves stupid.”
“We adults destroy most of the intellectual and creative capacity of children by the things we do to them or make them do. We destroy this capacity above all by making them afraid, afraid of not doing what other people want, of not pleasing, of making mistakes, of failing, of being wrong.”
“I am horrified to realize how much I myself use fear and anxiety as instruments of control. I think, or at least hope, that the kids in my class are somewhat more free of fear than they have been in previous classes, or than most children are in most classes.”
“I had not lost all of my distrust in myself or fear of the world, but I had lost enough so that I could see the trials and failures of the classroom not as threats to my authority or sense of personal worth but only as interesting problems to think about and try to solve.”
As someone who has been (at times) held hostage by her own anxiety, teaching daily forces me to face my own vulnerabilities. I understand how important it is for me to feel comfortable in my own classroom. I understand how important it is for me to create a classroom where students feel comfortable, open to making mistakes in service of making meaning out of mathematics.
I’m still unsure about how to remove my sense of personal worth from the equation here. I know that if I dwell on every small failure, I will drain what little energy remains at the end of each day when I need those reserves to plan the next. Teaching problems – the trials, the failures – are interesting problems to think about and try to solve, but the breakneck pace at which those problems crop up often leaves me reeling. How do I face each student interaction with the patience and sensitivity it deserves? How do I set my own [ego, distractions, stressors] aside and allow myself to experience struggle as a part of professional growth?
Contributing to the growth of these gulpish teenagers into confident young adults is an important, consuming task. Some days, when I have slept fewer than 6 hours as a result of some crazy attempt to have a personal life in addition to a professional one, it can feel easier to wield fear as an instrument of control rather than bringing my calm, laughing, messy best to my students. Just a reminder to set my ego aside. Just a reminder that my best is enough.
While I’m posting: some odds and ends.
1) Yesterday in study hall, I was busily typing on my computer while a student looking over my shoulder out the window asked me if it was currently raining. The sad part is I immediately stopped what I was doing, flipped around, looked out the window, and nearly answered his question before I stopped myself to exclaim “are. you. kidding. me.”
2) I have spent a lot lot lot of time lately researching whatever I can dig up about the new standardized tests slated for 2015-2016 school year in Tennessee. I am sitting with ears perked listening to stories of SBAC and PARCC test administrations in other states.
3) I teach all freshmen classes this year, which is a first for me. I started my first year of teaching with mostly seniors, and have kind of inched my way down to these needy, wonderful 9th graders who are equal parts exhausting and energizing. As the spring weather creeps in and summer looms large, I’ve had so many friendly conversations with students ready to share their thousand thoughts with someone who will listen. It matters for students to have an adult in the building who they feel cares about them.
4) It is an unwritten law that if you plan a lesson requiring laptops and internet access, inevitably a cable in the county will get cut (?), knocking out all internet other than networked attendance and email clients. (Today.)
5) Teacher appreciation lunches this week have gifted me 5 extra minutes in the morning that I’m not spending packing my lunch, and a couple hundred extra calories each day in the way of delicious desserts. Thank you so much to the parents who are supporting us with their time, service, and yummy food.
6) I love working one-on-one with students, and I’ve gotten a ton of it this week. A few years in and there is _still_ nothing like the push and pull of working with a student – wherever they happen to be in their current grasp of a topic – to reach new levels of understanding. Those small victories, unique to each individual I’m working alongside, are a purely joyful experience.
7) I have a lot of thoughts about how to make my school a better place for new teachers. I hope my thoughts translate into concrete action, and that I follow through on the responsibility I feel to leave this place better than I found it.
7) I need to learn how to listen better. My voice takes up a lot of space in my classroom, and in my conversations with colleagues. Suggestions?
Have fun at NCTM Boston this week, friends. Think of me in my classroom in Tennessee, dangerously near the downhill slide to summer, fighting small battles every day to make my classroom, school, and community a place I am proud of.