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Internalizing my Struggle. 

This is possibly my most honest and painful post so far. I’ve started and stopped this post quite a few times. I keep coming back to it in the morning on my dog walks, and then literally run away from it (eagerly distracted by music and podcasts!). Amazing what other things you can do when you’re avoiding.

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I have a difficult class this year. I hesitate to say that because I don’t want to come across as negative. And I think that’s part of the problem. It has taken me a long time to actually openly admit that this year. I’ve kept it quiet and subdued. I’ve tried not to complain. I’ve tried not to be negative. And this has had consequences for me.

Teaching is often very isolating experience. Me personally, when I struggle, I tend to keep to myself. I tend to internalize and keep it all inside.

My class isn’t a battle. I have had years where it is a huge struggle: power issues and open defiance. That’s not really what’s happening this year. No, it is a much different climate this year. I don’t dread the climate or daily struggles. But I approach my class with the quiet resignation that is steeped in failure: I’m just not able to meet everyone’s needs.

There is something I’m working to uncover here. I’ve noticed other teachers that teach my class feel the same way. There are a lot of tricky kids in my room. Quite a few who just won’t do anything despite our best motivating techniques. But for myself especially I tend to personalize this. They are not doing anything because I am not teaching well enough.

I don’t know where this comes from. But I hear it again and again. Good teachers constantly struggle work to find solutions to the problems. If they have not solved the problem then it is their fault.

I do think there’s something to be said about responsibility on the student. But I hesitate to head down that road because I don’t want to default to blame. They are just kids after all. But I’m experiencing effects of this internalization – this finding blame on myself. It is very stressful for me. And I handle my stress by keeping things inside.

I know I should exercise and socialize more. But after a hard day I tend to watch TV and eat, for my internalization manifests in my weight gain this year. There have been years where I have battled tough classes. And tried to control things that I can. Everything is just more challenging this year. There is a quiet resignation to my approach this year.

I will launch myself at the challenge every day. I will fight the good fight. I will keep plugging away. I will not give up. But I also know that some problems are too big to solve. I am not a mental health specialist. My skill set is best served in teaching. There’s some problems that are too big, so this is where my quiet resignation comes from. I try but I still get stressed. I work away at it. But I’m also counting down the days until it’s over. I still carry a tremendous amount of guilt. Is there more I can do? Sometimes I feel there is. And I try again. There are other times where I believe I can’t.
So the point of this post? It really is about exploring my feelings about this. My reflection from the conversation I had yesterday. I was given two opposite sentences that make a lot of sense to me:

  • I’m doing the best that I can.
  • I can do better.

What more can be done? I don’t know. But I’ll keep at it.

M.

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Pushing & Pulling

Had a pretty incredible day last week. What is tantamount to an incredible breakthrough. I wanted to spend some time thinking about how that happened.

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I’ve been working on Podcasts. I challenged my students to create three different episodes around a certain theme. We’re exploring as part of a pilot project of a software program that my board is thinking about purchasing. And so it’s not often but this time we are sticking to one software program.

Traditionally it seems that speaking skills are developed through speeches. Most students know that the oral language mark comes from a speech that needs to be delivered to their class. Students have various experiences with this set-up.

I have one student that I suspect is dealing with a lot of anxiety. Things are especially heightened around the idea of public speaking task. Though my task isn’t public at all, there seems to be a block that’s preventing this student from even trying. I worked to help find a topic to speak about. We were able to pull up a recent writing piece to literally read out loud. I was even able to find a quiet room with a door that would provide for some privacy. It’s been a long week and a half, and yesterday we finally got a recording done.

I’ve been especially aware lately of the pressures I put on kids. And I was aware of how hard I was pushing. I tried to break down the task as much as possible. I chunked it into very small pieces. I believed in this student, often blindly, hoping that it would happen. I tried to relieve any anxiety: no audience would listen to it – not even me – until it was ready – or not. This student had all the power. And I kept pushing.

But I also was pulling this student along with me. I was leading the way. I was showing the student and modelling what could be done. I was bringing the student along on this journey – often doing a lot of the work myself!

I then found success! This student was incredibly proud for overcoming this block. This student recorded a short reading of the writing piece. It wasn’t amazing, but it was good!

I’m finding that a balance of pushing and pulling is really difficult for me. Too often I lead the way and I don’t allow students enough time to figure it out on their own. I realize I’m under a time constraint. There is a pressure to get the work done. So this balance is necessary: between pushing them to figure it out, and pulling them along as I do the work.

Still a work in progress, but I’m well on my way.

M.

Just the Right Amount of Push

I spoke before about having a challenging class this year. I need to constantly walk the balance between pushing too hard and not hard enough.

The biggest parts of my job is to motivate students to be their best. I have a small group that just don’t do anything. This is a problem, obviously! And it’s a problem I’m struggling to solve. Is it even solvable?

If I push too hard for one student the results are explosive behavior. In another it results in total shutdown. If I don’t push enough, have a group that just won’t do anything. I find it tough to reconcile. I have a hard time having students do nothing. But is it really my choice? And are these students able to live with that choice? Is it fair to expect students to live with consequences that they can’t even fathom? I know they are living in the present right now. Hardly any of them can put an eye forward to the future. And that is my job.

So is that fair to expect from them? Therefore I keep pushing. Sometimes with some success and sometimes not.

 

M.

Forgiving Myself

I feel that this is important to post. It is more of a reminder for me than for anyone else. I want to remind myself how important it is to forgive myself.

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I love teaching. I love the challenge and the problems and solutions. Teaching is amazing because we get to redo it every year. There are new classes and new problems and new amazing opportunities. And the best yet: is the chance to fix the mistakes of the previous year.

I think it’s important though to note that these mistakes are part of the job. And I think it’s important for me to forgive these mistakes.

I’m never going to do it all. I’m never going to get it all right. I can keep trying though. And I’m never going to give up.

This forgiveness isn’t about making these mistakes OK. I don’t want to become complacent in these. Obviously the goal is to not make mistakes. But I do need to recognize the mistakes will happen.

This is a tough balance to strike. I need to recognize that mistakes will happen. I don’t want to allow these mistakes to happen, but I do need to forgive myself when it does happen. Living in regret is not going to work so I will need to forgive myself, learn from these mistakes and try again.

 

I Love the Writing Portfolio

I’ve long been using the writers portfolio in my writing program. I like the way it helps students to focus their thoughts. There’s a few hacks that I put on it that I think are necessary.

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I usually start my portfolio with the definition of the big skills and strategies we been working on. I get the students to define the skills giving examples from their work. This is a way for them to reflect on what we’ve done.

I then get them to reflect on the diagnostic assessment that we did for this unit. I get them to reflect on what they did well and what they need to work on, both in their plan and in the writing. I like this throwback to the beginning of the unit for them to consider where they were.

pexels-photo-247708.jpegThen I get them to submit a certain number of plans and writing from the practice portion of the pathway. I get them to prove that they have been working on the feedback from the initial assessment. I get them reflect on why it is good. This is my attempt to get them back to the success criteria. Did they do what was expected of them?

 

One piece I’ve really enjoyed adding to my pathway is for the students to re-do the initial diagnostic assessment. My thinking is that after three or four or five weeks of work, they should be better writers. They will prove this by making big improvements to the writing diagnostic assessment. I think it’s important for the kids to look at the work that they’ve done and see how far they have come. This is a real motivating factor to make these big changes. With a first copy and the second copy, they can clearly see that they’ve made changes.

One thing I struggle with, especially at the end of the writing pathway, is managing all of the assessment. One thing if you want to try to limit in the amount of practice pieces that they give me. And get them to choose only the best and that is the piece that I can assess. Plus I don’t want to mark a whole lot of things if I can just mark a couple of things!

I also need to manage feedback for this. It’s tricky when I give feedback at the end of this pathway. It’s more of a summative assessment and proof of the learning. But at the end of the pathway managing all of that work and getting the right amount feedback is still a struggle.

M