I am the first person to tell people that we need to focus more time each day on what is good rather than what is not good. I have often told other teachers that they should ring to let parents know the positive that their kids are doing to balance out all of the negative that we have to contact parents for. And I tell people in crisis that the best way to shift our perspective is by focusing on the things we have in our lives that we can be grateful for. It has always worked for me.
My job is hard. I have a lot of tasks each day that need to be done and often, I feel like I am drowning in the thoughts of all that needs to be done. And it is easier to allow myself to drown than it is to take those extra strokes and reach for the branch that would help me help myself to shore. Nice metaphor Tina ;-).
The branches today took many forms. Despite the cold today, despite an extensive To-Do list, despite the nine or so Formal Cautions that await me, I have come home happily, a big smile on my face and warmth in my heart.
I am blessed. The staff I am immediately responsible for are beautiful. I put a note on the door today alerting people that I am exceptionally busy and that I would like them to avail themselves of alternative forms of communication with me, just until Friday. One of them didn’t have her glasses on and spoke to me in the staffroom. When I alerted her to the sign she laughed and came back soon after with a bright orange sign that instructs people to read the sign already there before entering. I didn’t realise straight away. We all laughed. Warmth in the heart.
And that is on top of the others who all threatened to hurt people who didn’t pay attention (their vested interest is that I am crabby when I am busy and they wear it).
And then those moments in the classroom. I had several today.
I have mentioned Year 8 before. Sigh. I love them. Every period they work away happily. All of them. Today one of the notorious boys was working on a car park illustration for his picture book. Another student is on crutches this week. When the student drew in the disabled parking spot, he was so proud of himself for naming it after the student on crutches. And there was no ill intent. But I was reminded of how very important it is that we teachers allow the kids to have space to be their authentic selves. When we cage them or attempt to repress their spirit unnecessarily, what choice do they have but to rebel and shake the bars.
Further to that, when the bell went, the same student asked if he could just stay in the room and keep working instead of going to his next class. I obviously told him no. But inside I just wanted to be able to say, “Sure. Why not.”
My Year 9 class are still in trouble for their atrocious behaviour last week when I was absent from class. They are presenting their Speaking Task on Shakespeare’s soliloquies; speaking tasks are the best method to humble Year 9. I feel for them. I hate speaking formally. It terrifies me but I force my way through. I have told my kids it just takes twenty seconds of courage (thankyou We Bought A Zoo) to achieve anything in life. When it comes to speaking, it is the twenty seconds it takes to leave your seat, stand at the front, take a deep breath and to start speaking.
One of my students texted me last night to see if she could present it privately. I told her to try to speak today and to see how she went. She did. And she did well. I am so proud of her. At some level she had to trust me that she would be okay and that if she wasn’t I would be there to protect her. And I was reminded of how vital trust is in this symbiotic relationship between teacher and student. If they don’t trust us, they can’t move beyond where they already are.
And then Year 12. A double. Only three students in the first period of the double. And I made the mistake of acknowledging to them how much I will miss them when they leave. A mistake because the second period I was back to spitting words through gritted teeth as I repeated things, three, four, five times; there were only six of them there. And when I expressed my error and said I was taking it back, one of the boys told me I couldn’t because he had felt good about himself when I said it. And I was reminded of how important the words we say to our students are; how we truly do possess the power to build them up or bring them down. And we should never want to bring them down.
And then Extension English. They had to complete their first assessment task; an hour and a half to respond to a question, to show me everything they know about Madness in Women in Text through Time. I was as nervous as they were. After all, if they couldn’t do this that would be a direct reflection of my teaching choices/strategies (interestingly, when they succeed I do not regard it the same way; maybe my own low self-esteem as a teacher could learn a bit from this). One of my students has never really believed in herself. She was texting me last week, distressed because she just couldn’t get it (how to complete the essay – we had been scaffolding it) and so over the phone I broke the steps down, one at a time, and she would text me to let me know she was ready for the next one. We started this process but did not get too far into it when it became late. She finished the rest of her preparation on her own.
And so when I collected the tasks I glanced over them. I came to hers and I skimmed it and I started to well up. I took my glasses off to wipe my eyes because the welling had become a stream. I was (am) so proud of her. It isn’t perfect (but after a cursory glance only lacks concept statements which is structural and easy to rectify) but she did it. I couldn’t look at her but she came and gave me a hug.
And I was reminded how important their validation of me is to me. And how my validation of them is probably one of the strongest keys to my success in the classroom, and why after twenty two years of teaching, I am as passionate and idealistic as I ever was.
I love my job. I love my kids. I love my school.
Even on the worst days (and there are many), there are moments like this. And that is why it is important to memorialise them. More teachers need to do it. It keeps the spark glowing.