Something’s amiss. Something I haven’t been able to name. Maybe I wasn’t prepared enough? Maybe I was overly prepared? Maybe I projected the glow of proficiency my students exhibited at the end of last year onto the beginning of this year? Maybe I’m still experiencing the challenge of re-entry from the educator’s retreat I attended in July? Whatever the cause, our class didn’t gel in the first two evenings in the way I’d imagined or in the way I remember classes doing so in the past. Maybe my memory is faulty? Whatever happened or didn’t happen I just don’t feel confident about how the week wrapped up.
It would be easy to surmise that with such a variety of students, cultures, and languages in our classroom that this has something to do with the students. I don’t think that’s the case. I am fairly certain it has something to do with me. And as I get ready to dive into next week’s lesson planning, I’m uncertain about what direction I should take to get us on track. (Ugh, did I just write that…”on track”…)
Admittedly, I took a risk this year on the first two nights of class. Typically I have a tight reign on the structure of the first two nights (okay, the entire year). Usually in the first two nights we cover all the “rules.” We practice certain rules like calling in absences, asking for help, and classroom expectations. Mid-year last year I regrouped my students and asked them to create their own classroom norms and students expectations. It worked beautifully. So this year, I wanted students to work together to create their own norms from the first week. Maybe it was too much too soon? I feel myself fighting the urge to gather last year’s lesson plans and resume my old way of doing things – use all the classroom management tricks and teaching strategies I’ve come to rely on. I’m at a crossroads…am I underestimating my students’ abilities to pull together and define our classroom using their current English language skills? Or am I putting them in a situation doomed for frustration (theirs and mine)?
Additionally, I feel caught between the pressure of my department lead to start using the textbook tomorrow night, rather than taking two additional nights this week to get to know my students as individuals before diving into the text book. I want the extra time to have them write goals. I want the extra time to learn what motivates them and what they bring to the classroom. How can I possibly create effective lesson plans if I don’t know my students and their goals for learning English?
Do students have more to lose or more to gain by postponing textbook conversations and grammar lessons? Either way, Sunday is the day I set aside to do my weekly lesson planning, and today is Sunday. I have to make a decision that I suspect many other teachers face – do I gravitate toward faithfulness to what I think is in my student’s best interest as individuals or do I go for effectiveness of covering as much of the text as possible before the first school-wide assessment? The clock is ticking on my Sunday planning time. I need some inspiration. I find a YouTube of Parker Palmer’s eighteen-minute speech on education
“Our heroes take on impossible jobs and stay with them for the long haul because they live by a standard that trumps ‘effectiveness’. The name of that standard…is faithfulness…faithfulness to offering your gifts to whatever needs are within your reach.
The tighter we cling to the norm of effectiveness the smaller the tasks we’ll take on, because they are the only ones that get short-term results. Public education is a tragic example. [Some]…no longer care about educating [students], a big job that’s never done. We care…about getting [students] to pass tests with measurable results. And we care about that whether or not…they measure anything that matters. In the process, we’re crushing the spirits of a lot of good teachers and vulnerable [students]. Care about being effective, of course, but care even more about being faithful, as countless teachers do—faithful to your calling, and to the true needs of those entrusted to your care.” (emphasis added) Parker Palmer
Okay. I don’t know that I’m a “hero.” But maybe I can find a happy medium between being faithful to the scope and sequence I’ve set for our first semester, and effectively applying the scope and sequence set by my department lead. I look to the writings of Maxine Green for a little more inspiration before tackling exactly how I plan to satisfy both:
“If the teacher agrees to submerge himself into the system, if he consents to being defined by others’ views of what he is supposed to be, he gives up his freedom to see, to understand, and to signify for himself. If he is immersed and impermeable, he can hardly stir others to define themselves as individuals. If, on the other hand, he is willing …to create a new perspective on what he has habitually considered, real, his teaching may become the project of a person vitally open to his students and the world…He will be continuously engaged in interpreting a reality forever new; he will feel more alive than he ever has before.” (Maxine Green, Teacher as Stranger: Educational Philosophy for the Modern Age)
In the end, I opt for designing Monday night’s lesson around learning stations where students can complete a variety of text-based activities and a variety of more personal activities like goal setting. Each station will place learning in the lap of my students – which is key to mastering language. The product of each station will provide me with information about each student as an individual, and I’ll gather more clues specific to their reading and listening levels as I observe how they work in small groups to solve a variety of problems and tasks related to the textbook. I do feel that I’ve reached a compromise that will enable me to be faithful to what I see as a necessary step in serving my students – getting to know them as people — and effectively balancing the requirements of the scope and sequence set by my department lead.
“The educational task, in the moral domain, as in others is to find out how to enable individuals to choose authentically and intelligently for themselves. It involves learning how to equip them with the conceptual tools, the self-respect, and the opportunities to choose – in specific circumstances – how to do what they consider right.” (emphases added) Maxine Green, Teacher as Stranger: Educational Philosophy for the Modern Age
That is to say, the goal of education is for a teacher to model within the learning environment what she hopes her individual students will leave the learning environment with — the knowledge to evaluate situations effectively and make choices that are both faithful to herself and choices that positively effect the whole.
Thanks for reading!