Monday, October 13, 2008

Teaching Journal 08-09
Day 25, Tuesday, October 14

My Area of Focus

Most teachers settle on several "areas of focus" each year -- some aspects of teaching they want to work on and improve -- and I've decided, this year, to focus my attention on simply being more grateful. That may sound strange, since we usually imagine teachers focusing on things like improving class discipline, starting classes in a more interesting fashion, or upgrading their curriculum. We picture teachers deciding to work on specific problems in their classroom, not on interior attributes like gratitude. We think of them deciding to enhance specific teaching skills, not personal virtues. However, this year I realize, actually, that a greater sense of gratitude might help my teaching more than anything else. After all, I can't expect to assist my students in developing new skills if I don't recognize, and feel grateful for, the skills they already have. They come to my class fully loaded with astonishing talents, and my first task is to notice and appreciate those talents. I also want to work on being more appreciative of the lessons the scholars teach me every day. They have only one English teacher, but I am fortunate enough to have 41 teachers, and each one is full of youthful wisdom and burgeoning expertise. Over the years, I have learned at least as much from my students as they have from me, and I have to remain grateful for that. I'm convinced that only by starting with gratitude can I become the kind of teacher I have always wanted to be.

Fortunately, I was able to begin this school day with gratitude, because this morning at our all-school assembly we sang the French national anthem, in honor of the French students who are visiting us for the next few days. As we stood together and sang -- tots and teenagers, parents and friends, young teachers and one old "professor" -- it brought an overwhelming feeling of appreciation. I treasured those brief moments as we paid tribute to the French visitors -- treasured the feeling of belonging to a community born and brought up in camaraderie and caring. I walked out of the auditorium filled with the understanding that life at Pine Point is as good as life ever gets.
When I gave back graded essays in one class, I noticed that one student studied my comments for an especially long time. As I prepared to begin the lesson, he stayed hunched over his paper, reading my notes with great care. I paused (practicing my patience), and then paused some more to let him completely finish. There was silence in the room as I waited, but it was a healthful silence. I quietly congratulated myself for allowing this boy to slowly and scrupulously do what needed to be done to be an excellent scholar.
One of my goals for the year is to talk less and listen more, and, so far, I feel good about the progress I've made. I noticed it today -- how I'm resisting the impulse to make casual, impromptu comments during class. For years I've done this -- just tossed off thoughts as they came to me, thoughts that were always somewhat related to the topic at hand, but that were usually more distracting than helpful -- but I'm starting to see a change. The number of words I'm using in class this year might be down by 20% -- a major victory for me ... and, I'm sure, for my word-weary but patient students.


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