ONE YEAR WITH AN ENGLISH TEACHER
Day 84, Thursday, January 24, 2008
A metaphor for today: Scotch tape
I wonder if I could be like Scotch tape today. Tape can be used to attach one thing to another, and perhaps I can help attach a few helpful ideas to my students today -- ideas that might otherwise float to the ground and be forgotten. Scotch tape can also repair things -- for example, putting a ripped piece of paper together again -- and maybe today I can help a few of the students repair their self-confidence, which probably gets torn up quite often in their young, vulnerable lives. And finally, a dispenser of Scotch tape most often simply sits on my desk -- sometimes for days -- just waiting patiently to be of help. Similarly, my most important as a teacher may well be to just stand by, day after day -- geared up, equipped, and ready to help at a moment's notice.
During a free period this morning, I watched some of the videotape from an earlier class, and I'm glad I did, because I noticed two helpful things. First, the camera was on Damien several times, and it was obvious, as I watched, that he was being very attentive to the conversation. At one point, his eyebrows rose and his head leaned forward as someone made a point, and then he quickly responded with a very intelligent comment. It was good to see this boy -- who has often struggled in class -- behaving like a model student. The camera also showed Lucy admitting to the class that she hadn't done her reading last night. She said it at one point in the discussion, simply mentioning, bravely and forthrightly, that she hadn't done the reading. She had told me this before class (as I ask the students to always do), but when I saw it again on the video, I appreciated the fact that she could be so honest with her class about this academic 'failure'. She is an excellent student, so it must have been hard for her to own up to not being perfect. I also admired the way the class handled it on the video: they simply accepted what she said (after all, we all make mistakes) and moved on with the discussion.
In one class today, as I was beginning to get discouraged about the way things were going, I began, for some reason, to compliment the kids. I told them this was an unusual play and I thought they were handling it quite well, and I told several individuals they were being very attentive students. I also complimented the 'assistant teacher' for doing a fine job. Later, I realized that those compliments actually helped to dissipate my feelings of discouragement. Because I had turned the focus away from me (and whether I was being a good teacher or not), and concentrated instead on praising the good in the students, everything had slowly lightened up. The burden of being a 'good' teacher fell completely away and all that was left was the integrity and success of my students.
Remedy for self-pity: Focus on the good in others.