The internet is filled with teachers talking about what works in their classrooms. I’m grateful for this; many of the lessons, strategies, and book recommendations I’ve employed in my class come from edublogs. I’ve tried to write my own success story blog posts, but they never feel authentic. When it comes to chronicling my own professional life, I’m more interested in exploring what hasn’t worked. And there’s no time for failure like the beginning of the school year.
So when I read Rebekah O’Dell’s post on MovingWriters.org about the importance of moving beyond classroom blunders, I was overjoyed. I’ve returned to O’Dell’s post a multiple times throughout the last month. No matter how badly I feel after a botched lesson or parent conference, I leave the article knowing I’m not alone. On an abstract level I understand the stupefying complexity of educating children. I know that mistakes are how we learn and no one is perfect. That can be tough to remember however in a culture that casts teachers as missionaries and expects education to rectify poverty and inequality. Rebekah’s post reminds me that it’s okay to be human and screw up.
What follows is a highly truncated list of recent mistakes. The purpose of this post is neither to make light of my pedagogical blunders nor rake myself needlessly over the coals. Simply to share my own classroom disasters.
-After spending significant time in class reading memoir mentor texts, every period created a list of noticings about the genre. Students made observations such as “authors build memoirs around a single important event” and “authors of memoirs use inner dialogue to convey their thoughts and feelings to the reader.” We took days hammering out our final list of memoir characteristics. Every period voted, cross referenced, etc. The final list was going to be a key component to my genre instruction. Except after displaying it in the room I immediately forgot about it. And so did the students. Students wrote almost their entire memoirs without consulting the list a single time (thankfully I remembered to shoe-horn it in after brainstorming for this post).
-The beginning of the school year is filled with book talks galore. My students responded well this year, asking when they would get a turn to tell the class about their favorite books. So I created a Google spreadsheet for every class period to help students schedule their book talks. I mentioned it to the kids, showed them the form, and then forgot to bring it up again. I’m not sure if anyone ever signed up; I’m afraid to look.
-After reading Empowering Education by Ira Shor and For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood by Christopher Emdin this summer, I was determined to meet with my students once a week to discuss what was happening in the classroom. I selected a diverse group of students, bought donuts, and arranged our first meeting time. My head was crammed with visions of critical student feedback and contentious debates about power sharing. But when it came time to meet, only half of the kids showed. They ate their donuts in relative silence as I struggled to move the conversation in a productive manner. What was I doing that I should continue doing? Activities. What did they think about the memoir texts I selected for our genre study? They were okay. What recommendations did they have for increasing engagement in class? Devote class time to asking students about their weekends. After a few minutes of awkward one-sided banter, I let the students know they could leave. I hadn’t done anything to prepare the students for critical talk except ply them with sugar.
-The beginning of any piece of writing is such an exciting time. When preparing my students to write their memoirs, I worked hard to make sure everyone had details to write about. We crafted our significant moments with art supplies, created lists of memorable first times/last times, interviewed each other about our lives, and drew inspiration from mentor texts. Pretty much everything except, you know, actually writing. So when I wanted students to share their drafts with each other, they just sat there. “What’s wrong?” I inquired, “share!”
“What are we supposed to share? We haven’t actually written anything yet” a boy replied.
Tomorrow we begin our first round of quarterly portfolios. If the past is any indicator, the next couple of weeks will be fraught with instructional mistakes big and small, enough to fill a blog’s worth of disaster posts. I’m glad I have posts like Rebekah’s to remind me to treat myself with the same patience and compassion I try (and routinely fail) to show my students. The ability to start again is one of my absolute favorite things about teaching. To find joy within the recursive loops of practice, collaboration, and uncertainty.