I am writing in response to Lisa Swaboda’s post, “MY KID IS NOT GIFTED.” This is when my brain did that thing where what I read, was not what was written, and it morphed into MY KID IS NOT GIFTED…BUT, SHE’S MY KID, AND BECAUSE SHE IS MY KID, I THINK SHE IS GIFTED….SO JUST LOVE HER!!
Lisa’s post got me thinking about several things. For one, Love often presents as very personal and discriminating. I seldom observe it given unconditionally by adults. Maybe this is because they are quiet and reserve about it. As a teacher I have, however, regularly seen Love freely given by children and between children.
Today before my lap swim, I went to a public park in a beautiful mountain valley town. I sat soaking up the sun, while reading and watching children play. They frolicked full of joy and abandon on and off of a musical Big Toy that sounded like wind chimes. They ran and laughed. They bounced, and swung, and climbed, and cartwheeled and squeeled with joy. Their happiness filled my bucket to overflowing and got me thinking how much I love school and children.
When I was on a trip in NYC a few weeks ago, we walked past a few pocket parks….the asphalt/concrete half block kind, all chain-linked in with a basket ball court, a few benches, and a make-shift swing set. As I passed by, I saw a posted sign that read, “MAY NOT ENTER WITHOUT A CHILD.” I figured it was for the safety of children, but for some reason, this was disturbing to me. As a result I wanted to walk faster and leave that place. I feel myself spoiled, because in rural Utah, we are blessed to freely enjoy green, public parks, and recreation space quite safely, with or without children and happily with dogs.
I was also moved to ponder the love parents have for their children and marvel at what it is, and reminisce on what it once was to be a young mother. I kind of miss those tender, worrisome years of responsibility. Kind of not.
I spent about an hour just watching families and play groups in the park. All of this wonderful, as well as the sun on my skin, and the feel of green grass under my bare feet was so nice. Here, I reaffirmed in my mind and heart that a teacher’s love for her students should feel like the love felt and demonstrated from each loving parent I witnessed.
1. The love of parent for a child is incredibly strong. Placing a child into another’s care is no small matter and entails enormous trust. Parents expect teachers to not only teach their child, but to love them with the intensity they would. In varying degrees, some parents impose biased expectations on teachers. Teachers try, but the truth is one is still only one of twenty four. Of course, each child is very important, and I can often succeed in making my students feel how important they are.
Because I believe the worth of souls is great in the eyes of God, every child in my classroom is of great value to me, and I hope they feel this. Our children are our future. I try to remember this and help them feel good about themselves. I hope they leave me owning their intrinsic individual worth.
Each precious student is to be treated gently with care, respect, kindness, and empathy. Teaching and learning is essential and important, but existing above all else in a safe environment should be acceptance and Love. The child/children should come first, not the teacher, not the system, not the schedule…..nor every other needful, necessary piece of the day-to-day machine. Truth is though, housekeeping sometimes takes presidence in the essential daily triage. Seems there is always a fire needing putting out, or an outside demand interrupting the flow of instruction, or an evaluation of sorts.
As teachers we don’t just teach, we craft and serve…..hopefully with Love. Ideally, school should be a happy haven….a home away from home. Teachers realistically opperate in a Social/ Service sector, not just in a FORD business model as some in government create and mandate for the sake of competativeness in a Global Market. Some days feel increasingly…STRESSFUL…as we’re peddling the Common Core and a Moral Code while doling out bandaids, and remediating recess as a child is bleeding and proudly waving a newly lost tooth.
And then there are ASSESSMENTS, ongoing quality control and inspections toward the achievement of the Holy Grail of Test Scores. All this in a slury of heavy handed testing culture fraught with the enstranglements of teacher accountability that on some days threatens to kill the little joy, individuality and creativity a teacher has left to give to content and delivery. Leaves you breathless and wondering….Where IS the joy? Where is recess? and… Where are the ARTS? Still the calling when heard in whispers in the mind and heart and felt in the Soul is worthy of best efforts.
2. What is “gifted” anyway? We hear SO much about strugglers. Isn’t everyone a struggler in some way? Isn’t everyone gifted in some way? These aren’t just kid things that people grow out of. I subscribed many years ago to the idea of multiple intelligences, and not just Gardner’s eight or however many he says there are. Ha ha…”Multiple Inteligences” kinda sounds like I’m saying I believe in aliens!!! Out of this WORLD!!! Far out!!!
3. Placement or Replacement? I guess I have never considered that a parent or child would NOT WANT me as a teacher. I’m not being arrogant. I just never thought this. Well, there was this one, once. I gave the older brother a pink slip for being racist to a hispanic boy on my bus route. He called him a “Beaner!” He was kicked off the bus for a couple of weeks and mom and dad had to take him to school during this time. This was a few years before I started teaching. I found out some years later that the parents had held a grudge and because of this, they refused to have the younger sibling placed in my clase. I had no problem with the child. Turns out that was a good thing though……me not having that kid in my class.
REJECTION is a hard one to take from anyone for any reason. Starts on the playground, continues throughout life. The brush off comes as an attack on both Ego and Heart. I recently discovered that a mom was not comfortable with the placement of the child into my class because I am “loud” and her son has some special needs. I can get pretty animated and enthusiastic on the playground basketball court.
I don’t know just what the child has seen or heard of me. As a teacher who is also a mother, I wonder…Why would I love this child any less than any other child of my own in my home or in my classroom? Why wouldn’t I work to provide an equal and appropriate education for him in ways that would meet his or her needs?
In responding to the parent’s concern my Principal said some nice things about me in defense of the process, which are sometimes true, and I felt momentarily kind of good. Then the words began to feel more like “a burden of proof” or something more to live up to…like an expectation. Maybe the child struggles with change, and the transitioning to a new “strange” (unfamiliar) teacher does not come easily. First day jitters is part of being a child at the beginning of another school year. Heck! Fear is part of being human for that matter. It’s just a harder transition for some children I suppose.
Personally, I am up for anything. I want to help. I would want parents to know I will offer whatever I can and I will do my very best to teach and to love their child, while coming from my own authentic place of person…as me.
4. I started reading a new book today. I’m excited. I am approaching this feeling more hopeful after about ten years in which every year felt like the first year of teaching. I’m looking for affirmation, advice and a sense of community and connectedness. The book is called Unshakeable by Angela Watson. The title alone makes one feel stronger, don’t you think? It has a solid sound and gets your attention.
For the last two years I have been both personally and professionally juggling knives, hopping on a peg leg while balancing on a teetering three legged stool. I am feeling more hopeful about this year though and want to make it the best one yet. So we are reading this book as a staff and I’m hoping there will be a time to share our personal experience with this. With all the hype year after year about test scores and showing continued progress and benchmarks, it feels “strange” to be reading a book that reads a lot like a teacher’s survival guide. Guess I shouldn’t be surprised. A How to Enjoy Every Day book. Truth is…..I think I mostly do enjoy the days. Our school and the people there are great!
It feels funny to hear Angela Watson admonish teachers to be genuinely themselves, to retain and even share more of their person. I am typically pretty positive and confident, but the truth is…the “me part” has taken a hit in feeling largely like a mill stone around my neck. The author’s words seem to go against the grain of my own recent thought process which is to shut myself down more to “calm and quiet” and to lose my loud enthusiasm. It has felt kind of dehumanizing and crazy. Here I am at nearly 50 years old and I am still trying to figure out who I am in attempting some form of make-over. Weird. Maybe this is adulthood, or a new cable series called, “Breaking Bad Teaching.”
I suppose the “one-two-punch” will come in the additional reading of chapters. Maybe these will outline more of the “work” in terms of organizational “strategies” that will afford me more “energy.” Energy has not really been my problem, unless it is a question of how to channel it away from disrespectful. I think ineffective instruction has mostly been my problem. I have historically had too much energy. Another part of the problem has been classroom management, lack of it, or inconsistency. This improved a bit last year. To top these off, is my own insecurity in my teaching and in how I view myself. I have decided to attempt treating myself more gently, and to give myself permission to continue to experiment and make mistakes while being myself until I come up with things that work.
5. Test scores are not valid and reliable indicators in my mind. Maybe I would feel differently if I were churning out most coveted student scores and outcomes. I doubt it though. I am a process person…..not a product person. After all………We spend a lifetime processing and still never end up complete, rather, we come apart in aging. If I choose to be less judgemental, I realize that every person is just doing the best they can with what they have, and I should chose kindness. I guess I just need to provide the best instruction and Love I can. I try.
6. Maybe I am jumping the gun with assumptions. Maybe I should just pipe down and read on attempting UNSHAKEABLE. Maybe there will be some substance to this book beyond a unifying assignment. I want to be kind and calm down. Yes. I will do this. Maybe I will surprise myself and discover that I am doing more of what is recommended by the author than I thought. Maybe….to a lot of things. 🙂
7. For certain, I WILL choose to be grateful. The thankful path is a more full and rich way and is a key to loving others and to loving the blessed work. This IS where I want to be. Thanks Lisa Swaboda for making a marvelous ongoing blog and for getting me thinking and writing missives again.