Saturday, January 24, 2015

Climate Change


This lil ole blog thing has taken on a life of its own.  I didn't mean for it to become a snarky retort -- and I don't even mean for it to sound that way when I reference it in what can be misconstrued as a snarky retort -- but it is certainly much more than I thought it ever would be.  Just yesterday, a fellow teacher asked me why it seemed that so many young teachers act like they know it all?

Before I knew it, I heard the dreaded words:  "Don't you read my blog?"  

Those of you who have been reading the spewings from my brain for months know that despite 16 years of gifted education, I feel less like a master teacher every single day.  So much so that this blog is aptly named to reflect any possibility of misnomer.  For more seasoned teachers, the presumption of having gleaned all necessary knowledge at the feet of professors in college and a few stints in classrooms as observers or student teachers is preposterous.  

Yet I can't help but wonder if this new outward optimism and competency is an act being taught, to keep teachers from what would otherwise be an overwhelming pit of despair.

The Te@chthought Blog Challenge for today:

What do you do to help your students learn in a climate of optimism and hope? Do you have a successful strategy you can share? 

We've all heard the warnings:  
  • Don't act scared around a potentially violent animal, for it will, assuredly, sense your fear and make you a target.
  • Nursing mothers should relax and everything will be fine.  (While worrying about the nourishment, nurture, comfort, and very life of their child.  Sure.)
  • Don't run when you're on fire.  (Stop, Drop, and Roll.  Flippy the Clown says so)
 You get the idea.  The very thing that you most instinctively do in any given situation is the exact opposite of what is best.  Certainly the idea of showing anything less than complete competency should not be an option for new teachers staring down two dozen or so students who are just looking for a crack in the armor.  Optimism and hope are the two most difficult emotions to fake, and the two most necessary emotions and environments to cultivate in a classroom. 

So what do I do to foster a climate of optimism and hope? 

  • My room is clearly not mine.  The students in room C 108 know that we are all in it together, and that the room itself conspires against us.  (Take, for example, they lying thermostat that assuredly reports a comfy 68 - 71 degrees from the protected confines of its locked lucite protected shell, while everyone in the room has chattering teeth.)  When kids complain about the temperature, I commiserate -- and offer them a blanket.  There are stacks in the closet, and they know that they are there.  A couple of times a month I drag them home and run them through a sanitize cycle, and haul them back to school.  The message is simple:  it's difficult to learn when you're distracted, and if being warmer makes you more focused, I care enough to make that happen.
  •  Due dates are arbitrary.  As teachers, we have to admit, if only to ourselves, that the due dates we choose for major assignments are usually designed to fall around extended weekends that will allow for marathon grading.  This semester, I'm asking all of my students to be aware of all of the necessary assignments, so that there is a clear understanding of what needs to be accomplished by the end of the year.  If someone realizes that the same week that my big research paper is due coincides with the speech in Spanish, the midterm in math, and the giant art project, then a simple discussion to adjust deadlines is warranted.  But it is up to the students to initiate the conversation and offer a solution.
  • We are a team in the learning process.  Showing respect for each other, for work produced, and for property demonstrates maturity and responsibility.  Once I've seen a level of commitment in my students, they can count on me to be an advocate for them - not just in my room, but beyond.
  • I make phone calls home.  I actually made a mother cry one time when I called to tell her how much I enjoyed the honesty and humor of her son.  Imagine having a child who, for ten straight years, only ever generated negative calls from the school.  She was stunned when I told her that I was calling with an idea for a job shadow for her son.  By the time we got off the phone, I was crying, too.  
Optimism and hope?  Maybe it's taught to new teachers to protect them from admitting to uncertainty.  Maybe it's fostered in the reflections of older teachers who write blogs, or maybe it's cultivated in the relationships between teachers supporting each other in collaborative discussions at lunch or in empty classrooms after school. 

Whatever it is, and wherever it's cultivated, it is clearly the key to surviving the present, and making thoughtful, more productive citizens of us all.

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