Sunday, December 7, 2014

#ShareTheMess: The October/November Swoon

"nosedive" by Elijah Nouvelage from flickr
Late October and early November was a bad time for me. Yeah, it's the time of year that we all hit a dip in our collective energy level - there isn't a long weekend to be found in October, the new year smell of the school year has worn off, it starts to get dark earlier and earlier - but I made some mistakes in October and November. They dogged me for about a month. Don't do what I did. In no particular order:

Don't focus only on the students you're struggling with. There will be students that you have growing pains with. That you butt heads with. There will be classes that are a struggle. But fixating on those students you're struggling to get on the same page as, focusing on the things you're not able to do in the class you're struggling with: do those things for long enough and they get toxic. You stop seeing the great thinking some of your students are doing. You become blind to the growth that groups of your kids are making. And your failures build up inside you as you continue to fixate on the areas you're not making progress in and ignore the successes present around you.

Don't compare your old students to your new students. Yeah, we do it. Yeah, it's inevitable. But those comparisons can eat you up. I loop with my students: I get my ninth graders for a two year world history loop. So when I said goodbye to my tenth graders last May, I knew what was coming. I have looped back down before: this year was the fourth time I've done it. However, the contrast this year really hit me. In too many instances I only saw what my students couldn't do. In other times it was comparing second semester tenth graders to first semester ninth graders.

Combine these two things for a solid month? Come the middle of November I was a mess. I felt like a phony: here I was, advocating trying new things in the classroom and celebrating what your students can do when you get out of their way and I couldn't get out of my own way.

Finally, Victoria asked me about all the things my students could do. Asked about what was going right. And finally, slowly, I started to focus on the great thinking my students were doing. I started to be kinder to myself, to see my students for who they were: freshmen who I had another one and a half years with. Talented kids who were making strides at critical thinking and owning their learning.

And that focus made all the difference. I started seeing the amazing projects they were working on. The student who taught me a ton about the transgender movement. The kids who shared a ton of information about a fascinating slave revolt in Rome that I had never heard of.

And here we are, in December. First semester is (shockingly) almost done, and things are looking up. All it took was someone asking me the right question.