Things haven’t exactly been quiet in the MtC household, but there’s been little space to process or write about it. Almost immediately upon returning to our home after our big road trip, we were swept back up in all. the. things.
A new running training plan.
Catching up with friends.
Prepping for a new semester.
Crap – is my tenure mid-term portfolio done?
It’s been the clunkiest start yet to a new school year for me. Some of this is circumstantial: teaching an extra overload course, part of new committees, my first new course prep in a while. But some of it comes down to my perspective, and not reaching my own random – and possibly ill-conceived – expectations.
The four-week intensive class that I teach to kick off each semester adds another layer to this mix, and has been the focus of much of my emotional energy recently. Most of my students in this course are in an exceptional circumstance of their own – the first year of teaching while finishing their last semester of coursework – and I vowed to them that I would be both empathetic and sympathetic as we moved through this work together.
A week and a half in, I’d abandoned both.
Why weren’t they taking my class seriously? Why weren’t they doing their best work? Why were they bringing their classroom frustrations to my class, when we had other things to learn and talk about?
I spent days stewing about this. Venting to colleagues. Questioning my own expectations, as well as my students’ worth. Not a good place, nor the type of space I like to occupy as a colleague.
One night late last week, three weeks into the course, I was venting to my husband over dinner. He and I frequently talk about the topic of objectives, as I’ve helped him learn to use objectives to frame the trainings he conducts. As I whined that my students weren’t meeting even half of the objectives I set out for them, he challenged me:
“What if your objectives are bad? What if they’re not the right objectives for this course, and for these students?”
He was right.
In abandoning my empathy and sympathy for my students, I let myself wallow in my own bottomless bucket of self-pity. I was no longer grateful for the opportunity I was given at this moment.
To hear my students talk about how they spend the first weeks of the year establishing a safe, caring, and inclusive classroom community that values each and every learner, and maintains high expectations.
To bear witness to my students turn the corner from “teacher candidates” to “teachers.” To hear them act as professionals to share their strategies for being respectful yet firm with parents, for assessments that uncover their students’ strengths and areas for growth, for how to buck textbook trends in favor of meaningful lessons.
All those things we’d spent semesters preparing them to do? The characteristics we hoped they’d embody to become the teachers we hoped they’d be? They are doing it, and doing it well.
And I almost missed seeing any of it, just because of my own frustration with not getting through a random set of “nice-to-read” enrichment readings in my course.
I needed a gratitude adjustment to see all of this. To recognize that I had the opportunity to see the fruits of my and my colleagues’ labor. To celebrate the teachers our students had become seemingly overnight.
I’m glad I’ve landed here. While the next couple of weeks will be filled with papers to grade, feedback to give, lessons to teach, meetings to attend, and workshops to facilitate, I’m making the choice to shift my attitude.
To be present as they ask their real and pressing questions from their real and pressing classrooms.
To be empathetic as they worry about self-care while they balance multiple worlds on their shoulders.
To be grateful for these moments I’m given.