Today, as most days, I enjoyed teaching and I didn’t. Mostly I loved it, and had an especially lovely, close, free-wheeling time with a small lunch-time club I run. But I also had a last period class that was boisterous, chatty, saucy, pushy, and loud. I felt my voice go beyond firm to a volume that I have to admit sounds sort of like yelling. I saw a child I know well, look at me with hurt eyes when I sent him apart from the group for answering back to my every teacher statement. (“I was only saying…” he protested.) I saw the one or two children who empathize with the teacher, raise their hand in the quiet sign even before I did, reading the situation from my perspective and anticipating my frustration. Mostly, I saw children who were not learning what I was trying to convey, as the atmosphere was not calm.
I was reminded of an essay by a high school teacher. He spent a day in his students’ shoes, travelling from class to class. One of his most chilling insights was how often he felt like a nuisance. The teachers made students feel like they were never enough- not quiet enough, not still enough, not thoughtful enough… All the students.
I contrasted my lunch club today with that last lesson. My club is called LOL, or “Love Our Lab.” The second and third graders who come help feed the crayfish, mist the snails, turn the compost, water the plants, sharpen pencils, maintain long-term data charts, make art for bulletin boards… and more. In my club I had a student who is one of our biggest behavior problems. He tested me, but he had a great hour with us. Each of the children there knew I saw and appreciated them as an individual. We both were proud of how they had learned to function independently in our club. They could choose jobs and begin on their own. They could make requests and I could say “yes.”
There is no difference between the two groups of children- class and club. The difference is me. In one setting, I made them feel badly and in another, capable and great. I think back to my lesson- which I actually think is a good one. What happened? Too rushed? Too difficult? Confusing? Was I at a low ebb? Was I making unwise, ungenerous in-the-moment decisions?
Ah, teachers. This uncomfortable reflection has been played over and over so many times in my head over the years. The good news is that I care and keep thinking and working on my practice. The bad, well… you heard it.