For many teachers, this is the time in the year when they think about giving up. It is the point where they may not see the light at the end of the tunnel, and they are not yet seeing the rewards of their hard work so far in the year. This is the time when some less experienced teachers begin to question their choice to be in the classroom. This is the time for doubt.
Despite my many years in the classroom (and my husband's monotone reminder that "You do this every year"), I always face my moments of doubt at this time. It is not my being "negative," and I am not questioning my abilities in the classroom. I am simply at the point in the year when I assess which of my students I have "reached" and which ones have started to slip through the system cracks.
I am a very dedicated teacher. My school year consists of far more than an 8-3 job, Monday through Friday, for 9 months. I am in my building from 7 to 4:30, and I spend many weekends on my couch creating lessons and activities to engage my students. With that considered, I am still aware that there are always students, even in my classroom, susceptible to slipping through.
These students are the ones not asking questions. They are not the ones who throw up their hands in the middle of an activity and yell out that they are lost. They are not even the ones who complain non-stop about your activities, your lectures, your bellringers, etc. These ARE the ones who say nothing. They sit quietly and attract no attention. And they slowly, slip away.
So, at this point in my school year, I stand in my classroom and I doubt.
- Have I reached them all?
- Have I made the connections?
- Do they listen to what I say?
- Do they know that I care?
- Do they want to succeed for me?
Ironically, despite my obsession with knowing all of my students know my CONTENT, at this moment in my year, I do not care the least if the students in my current attention span even know what unit I am in. I do not care if they can recite my vocabulary. And I am little interested in their latest analysis after my superstar activity. I just want to know if they are bought into me.
Now, some may try to equate this with my wanting them to like me. That is not the case. I do not want friends. I want followers. I want to know that they are drawn to my class each day. I want to know that they care about learning in my classroom. And I must know if they learn in my class just to please me, if not for intrinsic motives. These are kids, that otherwise, have no reason to learn my content. What does World History matter to them? More importantly, why should they learn at all or be interested in school in any way, shape, or form?
So, as the new semester begins, the question becomes: What can I do now?
Keep in mind, my classroom personality is quite different from the rest. My students are used to my screaming out in joy and in frustration. They are used to my climbing on desks and dressing in costumes. They know that I am loud and they know that I am never what they expect me to be. So...
- Change it up again. Be something you never tried before. For me, it is quiet and reflective. I engage my students in real conversation. I bring history to life through real stories and through my life and family experiences. I become human.
- I allow my students to see me fail. I scratch out my mistakes and keep going instead of making clean corrections. I cry with sadness when my lessons fail. I become human.
- Make it personal. I reach out to the ones on the slippery slope. I ask about their days and their nights and their hopes and their dreams. I tell them about mine. I become human.
- And most importantly, I DEMAND attention. I tell them like it is and I tell them I need them to succeed. They are my success and without them, I fail. I become human.
Now, if you read this post carefully, you saw that my attention at the beginning was on the teacher who is in doubt. The one who does not know where to go from here. But then, I focused on the students. Why? We are all the students. Sometimes we are the ones who get it easily and perform a masterpiece. Sometimes we are the ones who handle the lessons with ease and grace, but expect and receive no glory. Sometimes we moan and groan as we tread through the tough lessons, but we continue on to the end. And sometimes, we are the lost one who is slipping through the cracks.
For we old, experienced teachers, we know this is routine. This is normal for those of us who truly care in our classrooms. This is normal for those who live this as our lives, not just our "jobs." This is just the time in the year where we take a look around to analyze our situation.
For new teachers, you doubt. Is this the right thing to be feeling? Is this what it is always like? Is this the way it will always be?
Teaching is not a walk in the park every day every year. It is, however, what we do every day every year. In the end, we just need to remember... We are human. And it's now the time of the year where we can begin to show that to our kids.
After all, don't they teach us something new each and every day? Sometimes, they are lessons we don't want to learn, but they are lessons still!