I’ve been yearning for the last month to make a tangible, measurable difference in the life of even one student. I’ve been trying to cobble together in my crowded head a brilliant blog post that aptly expresses my thoughts on the Occupy Movement and how it is connected with mob-like behaviours that I seemingly witness in so many aspects of 21st century North-American society. I’ve been hoping and praying that various tactics and strategies we’ve been using to coax and encourage our daughter to use the toilet on a regular basis will somehow stick.
Maybe if I retreat into the woods and spend a little time in a remote cabin, as Justin Vernon did, I’ll somehow emerge with a masterpiece. It’s alright to dream…sometimes…but the reality I’m repeatedly confronted with is that most of our days are spent ‘doin’ stuff’.
The experience of an ‘Occasional Teacher’, quite obviously, is that each new day brings a different group of students with different desires, motivations, needs. I barely get time to begin a relationship, so I settle for a good (albeit brief) rapport. In short, it’s a double-edged sword. I long to make a lasting impression–to be of aid to these young people on a relentless journey toward adulthood–but I am continually disappointed.
I wish that I could say otherwise. I wake up each morning eagerly anticipating (no exaggeration!) the school day that is before me! I WANT to ‘teach’ anything and anyone they will permit me to teach…but I know that I’m capable of so much more, and I must bide my time until others join me in this recognition.
Failures (or perceived failures) cause me to question whether I am creatively vapid or dry. I misunderstand them as a ‘lack’ that I must somehow address. I refuse to accept less from myself than my absolute best.
Then I consciously review my recent experiences in the classroom and recall a few details I had dismissed a tad too quickly:
A student tells me that under my guidance and as a result of my encouragement, he has completed an assignment in class for the first time in his highschool career. (The assumed subtext is that he rarely finishes assignments at all!) Why did this happen? Well, it turns out that as other students began to work on their assignments, I strolled over to where he was playing his acoustic guitar, recognized an obscure song he was playing, and complimented his musical taste and ability. We struck up a conversation that went on for 5 or 6 minutes, after which I suggested that he put the guitar away and maybe pull it out again in the last ten minutes of class once he has completed some work. He chose to comply, probably because I validated his interests and abilities when many other teachers would have simply ordered the disappearance of his most valuable instrument of self-expression.
Another class I encountered had recently finished viewing The Coen Brothers’ Oscar-winning film, “No Country for Old Men”, and were struggling to hammer out compare/contrast essays that related the characters/plot/themes to “Macbeth”. Together, we unpacked the puzzling final third of a truly exceptional film, and many came to the sudden realization that there were essays lurking beneath the surface of their subconscious just waiting to burst forth. All I did was ask them what interested them about these ‘texts’, listen for their responses, and probe further with thoughtful questions. They acted as though the thesis statements they produced were conceived in another dimension and literally dropped into their laps. I urged them to take credit for and own these insights–entirely theirs!
The truth is that BIG BREAKTHROUGHS are few and far between, and if we dwell on and anxiously await their arrival, we are likely to skip right past and perhaps ignore/miss the small victories immediately before us!
We’ve recently installed a home-made chart on our daughter’s door. She puts stickers on it to represent the times she’s stayed in bed all night long or used the toilet. It serves as a constant reminder of these accomplishments and a source of pride each time she enters/exits or simply walks past her room. Maybe we’re not beyond stickers on a board! We need to take time to celebrate the small victories too!