Last year. Last year, my 5th graders were a bundle of energy. They were happy, sociable, and very outgoing. Out of the 22, I would say 15 loved the limelight. They were musical, they could perform on the spot, they were meant to be on stage. They were performers at heart. I realize now, what a special group of children this was (is). Last year, the overall air in my classroom was of silliness and happiness. Yes, it drove me crazy at times, because it was difficult to get their attention, but they were happy. Last year makes me realize how different this year is…the complete opposite. Last year makes me understand how lucky I was to be surrounded by such unique, quirky kids. Last year makes me appreciate and miss smiles. I miss last year. Actually, I think I miss the year before last too…and the year before that…and the year before that. In the world of teaching, you do reach a “last” with every group of children that come your way, and I think this has made me be a more reflective human. All of those “last years” make me who I am as an educator today.
Credible. This is an adjective we strive to have attached to us. We want others to believe us, to trust us, to know they can rely on us. Sometimes it is difficult to keep our word, and this might make us start losing our credibility. Having a very busy teaching life, I have learned the hard way, that it is a struggle to keep up with everything we want to achieve. Ironically, when we do achieve everything on our to-do list, we actually can feel incredible. Too good to be true. Unbelievable that all lessons got planned. Uncanny that the assessments got graded overnight. Unfathomable that all bulletin boards got done, ready for the next units of study. So I wonder, if actually getting things done makes me feel incredible, does that make me not credible? 😉
Replaceable. Pencils, glue sticks, markers, scissors…all items that can be replaced. In a school environment, yes, even teachers and students are replaceable. What is irreplaceable, is the impact one can leave behind. One of my favorite units to teach is our Changemakers unit. This unit has evolved in amazing ways. Students (and teachers) learn more about their personality traits (are they introverts? extroverts? a little of both?). We learn from famous (and not so famous) introverts and extroverts of the world. We emphasize on the change they made that impacted their community, their country, the world. A change that will be around for a while, even though the person might not be. A legacy, one might say, that is irreplaceable. As we get older, and we realize how time goes by so quickly, we start thinking of the moments we won’t get back, the changes we could have made, the memories we don’t want to lose. All of these irreplaceable. As an educator, I am, and have been, working on a legacy that I hope will make an impact on some of my students. With time, I have come to realize I have a deep focus on quality over quantity. Quality of work, quality of activities, quality of friendships, quality of time spent with others…all of these, if done well, become truly irreplaceable. In a world that is moving faster and faster, sometimes at a pace that is unreachable, we might find ourselves constantly replacing moments, items, people. But to slow down, to focus on the quality of the moment, of the job being done, of the change being made, that is when something irreplaceable appears. This, I have learned, over many years…and I hope this is the irreplaceable lesson my students learn from me.
Logical. We continuously try to find the logic of certain actions, events and thoughts. We try to make things understandable and reasonable, in order to find their meaning. When working with children, logic sometimes seems to go out the window. There are moments when a child allows their emotions to take over and they will act illogically. At least, what seems illogical to us as adults. Then we realize, they are growing humans, still developing their self-awareness and self- regulation. Their actions probably have an explanation behind them, and once found, logic comes back in through the same window it had left. Finding the explanation is easier said than done, because when we are faced with something we deem illogical, our own emotions come in to play. This is especially difficult when we are dealing with adults. So many moments in my career I have run across actions, events and thoughts of a parent that seem completely devoid of logic. I cannot help it and find myself falling in to the trap of becoming judgmental. However, time allows us to experience many things and with these experiences comes knowledge. With this knowledge gained over the years I have come up with a conclusion: as adults we are still developing our self-awareness and self-regulation…as adults we have strong emotions that can stem from many unresolved moments in our lives…as adults we might seem illogical to others, when it comes to dealing with our own children. So, the next time I sit across from an “illogical” parent (or any adult), I will breathe and listen and not judge…then, I will kindly invite logic to come inside and sit with us…hoping that logic will place our emotions aside, and allow us to come up with reasonable solutions.
Measurable. As teachers we are constantly measuring student academic and non-academic growth. Just like a pediatrician takes height and weight measurements every year and then places them on a graph. Teachers are expected to consistently gather data to map student growth. I understand that this is valuable information. Pediatricians need to be able to identify if something is affecting a child’s physical growth. Teachers need to be able to identify if something is affecting a child’s academic and social-emotional growth. Why? Ideally, to find out what might be causing a significant delay or rapid increase in growth. Once identified, we can tailor to the students’ needs. This is what is truly amazing in education nowadays. We value what each student may need, and although it can be extremely trying, I believe, if done well, we are helping the student grow in areas that are actually immeasurable. If done well, proper support for a struggling or advanced student will help their moral character. It can make the difference between someone who gives up or someone who perseveres. It can make the difference between someone who takes the easy road and someone who challenges themselves. It can make the difference between someone who believes they can achieve anything and someone who doesn’t think they will amount to much….and all of this is immeasurable.
Perceptions. They are all around us. Working in an environment with children, I am very used to wrong or incorrect understandings of something, whether it be an instruction, an academic process or a simple gesture. I must admit, I also have moments when I misinterpret behaviors, words, and actions. This has made me learn to pause, ask and to make sure I am not confused in what I am perceiving. Sometimes, I might find out, pleasantly, that I was wrong, and that my emotions were causing me to misperceive a moment. For example, when students are chatting during independent reading time, but what is actually happening is that they are sharing their thoughts on the book because they are really into it. Another example, when a student is at their desk holding up the transition to get quickly and quietly into a line, and you realize they are not wasting their time, they are scrambling to find the correct way to divide. Lastly, when you jump quickly to conclusions that “mischief had been managed”, when actually there is a clear, logical explanation. Misperceptions can come from avoidance. Avoidance of confrontation or avoidance of clarification. Children are often scared to confront or clarify, and we need to remember that. Modeling and admitting when we are wrong, and how to take the steps to confront and clarify something we have misperceived is an important life skill. After all, you never know how damaging a misperception can become.
Connected. It seems like, nowadays, we are connected to technology 24/7. My laptop and cellphone come with me wherever I go, therefore, I fear, so does my work. It is so difficult to disconnect. Our school has a 1:1 laptop policy, which means technology is a very valuable tool for us in our day to day teaching. Actually, it is a necessity. Throughout the past 5 years, I have come to notice how easy it is for my students to misuse this amazing device. We have had many discussions about this with co-workers. One very wise co-worker mentioned a theory: the first contact our young generations have with technology is as an entertainment device, not necessarily a tool. Digital Natives view technology as play before work, whereas Digital Immigrants view technology as work before play. Our first contact with technology is what defines its primary use. Regardless, whether it is used for work or play, we are connected for both and we are taking face-to-face interactions for granted. My students’ stamina to stay engaged online is far longer than being engaged with me during a mini-lesson. My stamina to read a book is far less than when I research online (yikes!). Digital overload is very real, and as an educator it scares me. As an educator I struggle more and more for my students to connect with me during valuable learning moments that don’t involve technology. I notice the difference year after year. This year, during Quiet Time, after lunch, students must be technology-free, and I need to model this. It is a struggle, but one I will insist upon until the end. Yes, the famous “disconnect to connect” motto rules my Quiet Time. Disconnecting to connect with ourselves and with each other.