Wednesday, November 6, 2013

New Personal Record: Reaching Breaking Point In Under 30 Minutes Flat


Today I broke a personal record: reaching my breaking point in under 30 minutes. That’s the fastest the children have taken me from happy smiles to holding-back-tears stress. With just the right dose of misconduct, noncompliance and disrespect, I was done like a Rachel Ray meal in under 30 minutes or less.

In a classroom with twenty-seven 12 year olds, it only takes one tornado child to derail the entire train. One student doing outlandish things can inspire the rest to follow suit….one paper airplane, insult and scream at a time.

As a teacher, it’s frustrating to stand in front of such kid chaos and try so many different techniques to regain control.

As an adult that was once a middle school student, the way these children act some days really baffles me—the behavior and disrespect is like nothing I have ever seen before. I do also realize their middle school experience is different than mine. They are not in the suburbs with two supportive parents in a financially stable and happy home. A significant portion of these students are living below the poverty line, have no father figure in the picture, or are being raised by Mom/Grandma or an extended family member because one (or both) of their parents were deported back to Mexico.

As a person, I have empathy for these kids and I really do want to help them. Many days I wonder what it takes to stay in a job like this. I started to assume it was one of two things: insanity or supreme selflessness.

While driving yesterday, I found myself discussing this with my man when a very fitting NPR talk came on. The story was based on a TEDTalk from Angela Duckworth:

After several more years of teaching, I came to the conclusion that what we need in education is a much better understanding of students and learning from a motivational perspective - from a psychological perspective. In education, the one thing we know how to measure best is IQ, but what if doing well in school and in life depends on much more than your ability to learn quickly and easily.

I started studying kids and adults in all kinds of super-challenging settings….We studied rookie teachers working in really tough neighborhoods, asking, which teachers are still going to be here, in teaching, by the end of the school year? And of those, who will be the most effective at improving learning outcomes for their students?

Amen to that, I said to my fellow teaching sister on the radio as I anxiously awaited the big reveal of her insights. To my surprise, neither insanity nor selflessness were contributing factors.  

The big, golden key to success? It was grit.

Grit is passion and perseverance for very long term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future day in, day out. Not just for the week, not just for the month. But for years. And working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint,” she said.
After hearing this, I started questioning my own grit. Was I looking at this job as a sprint, simply trying to make it to Thanksgiving break? Or was there a bigger picture goal that brought me to education in the first place?

When I think about the good days I have in teaching, it really warms my heart. Even the craziest of children have their sweet moments that make you realize the work you do is positively impacting them. But some days can really make you feel like a failure.

Luckily my TEDTalk soul sister also captured this as she mentioned having a ‘growth mindset’ as a means to build grit in ourselves and our children:
The ability to learn is not fixed and can change with your effort…failure is not a permanent condition. We have to be willing to fail, to be wrong. To start over again with lessons learned. In other words, we need to be gritty, about getting our kids grittier.”
As I trudge on learning how to be a successful teacher, I realize the children need me as much as we need them. So upwards and onwards we go, hoping for a whole bunch of more gritty tomorrows. 


~*~


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