Monday, October 20, 2008

Week 8: What is Easy

Doing what is easy keeps us from doing what is worthwhile. Doing what is easy takes little thought and little effort, but the result is the same, very little. Why do we shy away from the tasks that truly challenge us? Why do we recoil from rigor and thoughtful reflection? Are we afraid of failing? Afraid of succeeding and having a new standard to which we must now adhere? Are we too busy? Too tired? Too scheduled? Too undisciplined?

I want to be a model for my students of what I expect of them as readers, writers, thinkers, and learners. I want them to see me engaged in analysis and evaluation. I want them to see me welcoming challenges and pursuing new ideas. I want them to see that a life of ease is not necessarily a life of joy. True joy comes from a confidence in one's self and a hope for the world around us. How can we have those things if we do not seek growth, seek failure, seek problems, seek solutions?

How do I get my students to stop choosing to do what is easy and begin loving what is difficult?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Weeks Three and Four: Cattle Rustler

So, now, we're comfortable. They know me. I know them. Now the task at hand is to move beyond what is easy.

I am really excited about the prospects that the electronic portfolios students are designing will make available to us. The freedom, the engagement, the creativity -- these aspects make me excited to continue to work on this idea.

What is difficult though is getting students to really "dig in." I want them to delve so deeply into what we are doing that it has meaning for them beyond the classroom. I want to break them out of the "this is my assignment and I choose to accept it" mode. When we write responses to poetry, I want the room to be silent and for them to groan when I tell them to wrap up their writing. I want them to come into class and walk out of class heatedly discussing the day's reading and their work. Instead, I am constantly prodding them to get focused, think deeper, ask more questions, put away work from other classes and ultimately I feel like I am just begging: care, care, care. Excuse the vulgar simile, but sometimes it is like I am the cattle rustler, moving the sluggish beasts along :) What will it take to make the cows dance??

Maybe I need to model this more -- maybe they need to see me immersed in thinking, see me engaged with the ideas. I think I do this, but I don't feel like I am getting through as effectively as I hope.

How can I inspire my students to do thinking and reading and writing that feels good only because it hurts?

Friday, September 5, 2008

Week Two: Routine and Relationship

It is only the second week of school and already it feels like we have been here for months. In some ways that is depressing -- if we are already a bit tired and a bit overwhelmed, how will we feel in March? But mostly, it is a reassuring feeling for me. The first week is filled with unknowns and the second week is filled with establishing routine and relationships. The wildness of week one has settled down and now I can start getting to know the young people in my classroom, getting to know who they are, how they dream, what motivates them and what is too much for them. I will spend the rest of the year doing this -- routine and relationships.

By routine, I am not implying that each minute of the class period is perfectly scheduled and offers no variance from day to day. I believe students should walk into class each day eager for what awaits, not dreading what they expect. However, as a former department chair of mine used to always say, I want them to know that in this classroom "this is what we do." Our methods for achieving our learning goals may look different each day, but I hope my students have a common understanding of the expectations we have of each other and the standard to which we are holding ourselves. I believe there is comfort in this, for myself and for my students. This is how we establish routine.

We aren't completely there yet -- I am discovering so much about my students and they are discovering who I am as their teacher. And I am sure that there is still a question about "what we do" in this class, but as we spend time each day engaged in reading, writing, thinking and sharing together, we move toward this common understanding and will be inspired to take risks and do our best in the safe and nurturing space of our classroom.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Week One: Anxiety Dreams

My first few years of teaching always began with a series of anxiety dreams before the first day of school. These dreams would involve a wide array of horrible mishaps -- no roll sheet, no classroom, students throwing desks, etc. I have completed the first week of my 12th school year and while the anxiety dreams have subsided -- due more to my exhaustion after caring for three young boys all summer than confidence -- I still wonder if this will be the year that one of those mini-nightmares will come true. I love the first days of school -- sharpened pencils, eager smiles, fresh folders and neat backpacks, but I worry that trouble may be lurking.

So far though, this has not happened. Partly that comes from working in a fabulous school where our weak air conditioning and a great demand for advanced classes are among our only problems. But I think the positive first days also come from my sincere love of being a teacher. When students walk into my classroom, I am so eager to find out more about who they are, what their passions are, what dreams they have for themselves and I believe it is a privilege to be a part of those dreams becoming reality. Students put a little piece if their spirit into the hands of their teachers. I could take that and lay it on a table, never to acknowledge it again. I could squeeze it until it burst. I could dangle it over a trash can to humiliate it. Or -- and what I hope I do -- I could hold it tenderly and nurture it until it was ready to take flight on its own. What a gift we have been given in these young minds and spirits! I hope to appraoch each day with this attitude so that my students and I can reveal the best of who we are.