Sunday, June 6, 2010
sometimes it feels like this - the weight of the world on my shoulders - the life of every student to some degree dependent on my actions and frame of mind. self centered, delusion of grandeur and significance? maybe, but better that than feeling and acting as though nothing i do matters.
When things go wrong we find everyone to blame but ourselves. This of course is human nature and we are as prone to it as we are to exhaling after inhaling. For the most part this is not so relevant that humans need to address it above all else in order to improve their quality of life, however, if they have any desire to improve the quality of society at large it should be their foremost pursuit. For a teacher, improving the quality of society is a daily task – our negligence of this duty manifests itself tenfold over the course of years. Though marginally recognized by popular culture and academia, the classroom teacher is in fact on the forefront of social (societal) change. Our misconceptions, premonitions and predispositions, as well as our stubbornness, closed-mindedness and righteousness influence the decisions, actions and dreams of dozens of citizens every day. This is not to say that we exhibit all, nor are guided by, all the aforementioned traits every day, but if or when they become patterns of behavior we run the risk of inflicting permanent damage on the very society upon which we will rely to sustain us and propel us into a more meaningful and positive future.
This reflection is a result of my recognition and abrupt and forced tet-a-tet with my own shortcomings as a teacher; my own inability to recognize what my students need to succeed – not only in the form of curriculum but also the in manner in which I manage my classroom – has led to an academic year full of only marginal academic and personal gains for my students. Though this is my first year as a teacher, I cannot help but recoil in horror at the blatant errors I made, over and over again.
I completely misread what my students needed by way of motivation and support, as well as what and how they need to learn. I have fostered some great relationships and have mentored a few students, I think the number of both could have been three times greater had my head not been duly lodged in my ass. I often remembered but promptly forgot what was important and what a good teacher must do for his students in order to ensure their success and growth.
Here is what I learned and what I hope to implement next year – as a matter of daily habit as opposed to momentary and fleeting glimpses of effectiveness:
Students who come from a background of poverty, drugs or violence will not be motivated by threats and reminders that a lack of proper action on their part in school will result in meaningless jobs, continued poverty, few options in life and a predisposition to drug and alcohol abuse. Their self-esteem and sense of self-worth are already extremely low – coming from a rocky middle school and probably elementary education; a lack of parental guidance, familial rifts, incarceration, death and abuse. They do not need to be reminded that if they don’t focus and do their homework they will be stuck working in the carwash. It is hard: it takes patience and fortitude, creativity and resourcefulness to focus on their ABILITIES and STRENGTHS and DREAMS, but doing so will in turn produce such results of brilliant performance and altered life paths that it must certainly be worth the effort and time – if not, why the hell am I in the classroom?
The students with whom I did manage to build good relationships saw past my bullshit façade of the guy who tells it like it is and life is tough and you better shape up or else… they clung to the moments when I embodied my mentors and became if only briefly the teacher I want to be, will be, must be; when I was kind and honest, supportive, flexible, relatable, patient and positive. In spite of my mistakes and shortcomings they came to me for advice, for a talk, to join my club, to write me an email, to cheer me up, to ask me what’s going on with me, to ask about college and what they need… they could have just as easily dismissed me as another mislead, foolish and worthless teacher – and then I would have done the same to myself – but they didn’t, they did not give up on me and that helped me not give up on myself.
I am not worth my weight in cow dung if I cannot apply what I learned come next September. If I am to be worthy of Mr. Ames and Mr. Fenn and Ms. Melby I must take these lessons and bring them to fruition in my classes next year – I must and I WILL.