November: The Dreamt Ideal, The Reasonable Expectations & The Actual Reality
This weekend has been a whirlwind as I worked through my first wave of report cards. Be it the marking, the comments or the reflections, I can see why this isn't a favourite part of the job for teachers. It was difficult because while teaching is messy - be it the spilling of papers out of desks, the chasing of late assignments, the tending to student needs, to building of character, to attending to independent education plans or the nagging of other miscellaneous considerations, it somehow needs to be consolidated into neat letters and numbers on a piece of a paper three times a year. It doesn't help that most of the time as a first year teacher, I don't know what I am doing.
Shooting in The Dark
"Little by little the bird builds its nest."
Cultivating and building a foundation takes time and it doesn't happen immediately. Birds are careful in crafting their nests, considering what materials to use and how they intertwine with each other to produce a strong and sturdy nest. While this serves as a good reminder that growth and development takes time, it sometimes feels like every subject I teach (there's 6 of them) is an individual nest and I have 16 birds frantically throwing sticks onto a heap that supposedly is to form a nest. It feels impossible to guide this "nest building" and we're just hoping the result will somewhat emulate and resemble a nest.
I find the lack of direction incredibly frustrating and while we did learn about backwards design in Teacher's College and working towards an end goal - it just doesn't play out as nicely as we imagine. There's always what you wish will happen - the ideal, what you think will happen (reasonable expectations), and then what is actually happening (the messy reality). At this point I am at the end of the rope with what I have planned and it just feels like I am aimlessly shooting in the dark. I just need to get to Christmas Break so I can get a head start and plan again before the train leaves the station in the new year.
The Blessings of COVID-19
That being said, there is much to be thankful for as I look back on this first term of teaching. And some of it has to do with the health crisis we find ourselves in. I have a much smaller class compared to if this was a regular year, which is great because I honestly can't fathom having any more students to keep track of. I also would like to think there is extra grace for me as a first year teacher and since it's a pandemic year, even more grace upon that. I am sometimes tempted to think that if this year is a train wreck we can just forget about it because, well, COVID.
Whenever I am asked why I prefer the junior grades (Grade 4-6), I always say that at this age, they are young enough that they still like to learn (for the most part), old enough that they can do some independent work, and young enough that they still like their teacher. The past couple of weeks I have been emphasizing the need to take ownership of their learning. This means being organized and prepared for class, taking initiative and to problem solve on their own, to be disciplined and diligent in their work, even if they don't feel like it. However I am running into the wall that is discerning where they land between spoon-feeding and being responsible for themselves. I have students that have high needs and requires someone to sit and spoon-feed. I have students that are independent but require affirmation every other minute. I have students who lose their papers once they get them, and I have students who simply don't care about school at all. Am I training students to problem solve when I just hand them a new handout whenever they claim to have lost theirs? Am I training students to resolve conflict when I try to play the mediator during a conflict at recess? Who actually needs the assistance and who is capable of doing it themselves? Am I taking ownership of their problems or are they? I don't know. And in the midst of the chaos and the train steamrolling ahead that is teaching, when does one pause to address these things and when is this a battle not worth fighting in the moment?
- I am proud of the fact that during lessons that don't go well or according to plan I am able to acknowledge it and move on rather than let it completely consume and discourage me. "Teaching is a dance, not a march."
- I am able to get to school later in the morning and leave earlier in the evening (though the planning still requires most of the remainder of the day).
- Using my "typing" periods to catch up and check in on students one on one.
- Finding the balance between devoting my singleness and time to this ministry and work while not letting it consume me so that I can carve out more time for myself and others.
- How to stay organized and on top of things when there are 16 other players in the game.
- Learning about how boys and girls learn differently so I can better cater to their needs and differences (I am currently reading Why Gender Matters by Dr. Leonard Sax which has been really insightful!)