I came to my new school with a personal flag flying that said, “Alaska Standards! Alaska Standards! Rah Rah Rah!” I set lessons by the standards, took each grade level and measured the student against the standards, and then wondered why students were pulling back. Hmmm. It has taken me 16 weeks, but I’m beginning to see: it’s not just the standards, but also relationships, when one teaches. I can’t recall who said it, but the saying “students don’t care how much you know unless they know how much you care,” really has rung true to me. It wasn’t that I didn’t care, I just got so busy in the mechanics of my classroom to really show how much I care.
Most of my students have lives that are very dysfunctional. I must recall Maslow’s hierarchy of need, and realize that if a students basic needs are not met, learning is impaired (www.simplypsychology.org/masow). My room could be a place of refuge, of safety. It could be a warmer place.
So the past two weeks, I have been working with my toughest class to build a better environment. It has been difficult, and definitely a one-sided effort, but I can feel it changing. I should have started out the year “student-centered” instead of pushing the standards. I see now that the standards are the base objective, and a tool for direction, but I must meet the student where they are at and teach from their abilities and skills. Reflection.
In order to care for my students, I must know my students. I kick myself because I have always prided myself in having a warm classroom, but I didn’t really know them like I should have. Now, after some research into test scores, student files, and conversations, I know what I’m dealing with. I am a teacher, not a friend; hopefully I can guide them and equip them to meet life with strong skills.
I think that teaching is one of the hardest things a person can do (if it is done properly). We are expected to break down knowledge, know our students, act professionally in the face of open defiance and ridicule. We are to get the student’s academic skills up to a certain level, even when they resist or show extreme lack of interest. Keep it up! Keep it positive! Keep it professional, and then go home and try to sleep or just function for your family’s sake. It’s hard.
So why do I do it? I do it because, as a person who is consumed with learning new thought and theories: it’s my cup of tea. Maybe it is the constant change that is so challenging: no two days are ever the same. I do like a challenge. It feels like surfing. You search for that perfect wave kind of day, when the rise is immense, dangerous, and impossible, yet you ride it out to the end. Exhilarating, like the smile and flash of brilliance that is on the face of the student that finally “gets it,” and they are so proud of themselves that you want to cry. There is nothing like witnessing joy and empowerment. That is worth more than any wage increase or compensation.
I know it sounds trite, but really, I will endure anything that this profession has and has not, for the student. I will endure the despair and frustration because it is the resistance within and without that makes me a stronger, more balanced person. I have stayed with teaching because it is all I have become. I have stayed because I am called, to teach.