In my new role as ESL teacher I am learning self-discipline and patience, even before the school year begins.  Although I can be self-disciplined when I need to be, I am not a very patient person.  I am thrown off course when confronted with ambiguous situations and unresolved issues, such as not knowing exactly what I’ll be doing or how many students I will be responsible for, or even if I’ll have many students to work with.  I want to get started on my classroom, study the curriculum, plan for the first week with students, but I can’t.  Instead I’m forced to wait and let things take shape.

It’s a good exercise for me.  When I’m feeling calm I think that everything will work itself out. But, when I’m feeling unsure of myself (much of the time) I start doubting myself.  I revert to ineffective habits:  if I’m focused on negative outcomes then when they happen I won’t be blind sided.  Because that’s something else I don’t like: surprises.  So, I find myself in a catch 22 where every negative thought or self-doubt produces similar thoughts and more self-doubting.  It’s a never ending cycle.

So, I remind myself that my thoughts and feelings, positive and negative, nurture each other.  If I let go of preconceived notions and ideas I will open myself up to unexpected experiences and relationships.  And, who knows?  I may create something better and more satisfying than I’ve known to date.

So, here are some of my affirmations for this school year:

Stay focused on the moment so that I can enjoy it.
Acknowledge that all is well now so that I practice gratitude.
Stay focused on the positive so that I can recreate it.
Be open to whatever comes my way so that I can take advantage of it.

How do you deal with changes and uncertainties?

New Teacher Orientation – Day 2

     Yesterday was the second day of orientation for new teachers.  As usual, there’s a lot of information to digest and, although I retained some key ideas, I’m sure I will be relearning a lot of things over the coming months.  And, even though many of us present have done similar kinds of orientation sessions more than once in our careers, it’s still important to do this now because as new teachers at this school we need to build our capacity for when the rest of the faculty joins us next week.  Doing this work in a group of new teachers helps us develop common understandings about what this school is all about.  We’ll need these understandings in order to continue to participate in future conversations at our new school.

     At yesterday’s session we spent most of the morning talking about assessment.  First, we were asked to discuss the following three questions:  How does assessment impact student learning?  What is the role of assessment in unit/lesson planning?  And, what role does the student play in assessment?  Then, each group shared important pieces of their discussion.  Many of the groups were thinking alike though there was some discussion about what is the difference between formative (assessment-for-learning) and summative assessments (assessment-of-learning) and how much emphasis to place on each kind.

     The bottom line is that formative assessments are intended to serve as guiding posts along the way to help the teacher and students determine how well students are doing and where the teacher might need to go next with a particular student or group of students.  My small group talked about the importance of giving kids choice, differentiating instruction and assessment tasks, student self-assessment, developing clearly defined and visible learning goals, and the place and importance of using formative assessment vs. summative assessments.  

     What I like about assessment at this school is what I heard from administration leading the discussions.   Ultimately, what we want are self-directed learners (as stated on the school’s website), not regurgitators.  We want students to produce interesting stuff.  We don’t just want them to memorize information.  We want them to use information to create new products and ideas.  To paraphrase one administrator:  we want content to be the way we awaken curiosity in our students.

     I can live with that.

Resolutions and Mistakes – the start of a new school year

     I just read a recent Mindsteps Blog post about teacher 

resolutions and making mistakes.  The skinny on that is that 

teachers start out each new school year by resolving not to make 

mistakes.  And, even though we know that’s humanly impossible – 

we all make mistakes – as teachers we hope that we can get it 

together by getting on a clean page at the start of each school 

year so that we can get it right this time.  Or, should I 

say…perfect?  But,  alas!  We know, especially those of us that 

have been teaching for many years and therefore (should) know 

better, that mistakes are bound to happen and the harder we run 

from them the harder we’ll be hit by the consequences when they 

catch up with us.  And, catch up they will!  So, instead of 

vowing not to make mistakes.  To get it right (perfect) this 

time.  To make the best bulletin boards ever.  To not speak a 

harsh word.  To have all lessons planned out way in advance or 

just in advance.  To always have morning meeting, class meeting, 

closing circle, writing workshop, reading workshop, math workshop 

and on and on, running smoothly the way it’s supposed to look 

like according to those wonderful professional books some of us 

devour like other people eat chocolate cake, I, for one, plan to 

make sure that I face my mistakes head on.  Instead of running 

away, I resolve to study what happened and do something to make 

up for the mistakes or change something the next time I’m 

confronted with a similar situation.  Isn’t that what we tell 

students all the time?  Robyn Jackson is right.  Even though we 

reassure our students that making mistakes is part of learning we 

don’t believe it for ourselves, and maybe not even for our 

students.  In fact, we go as far as saying that no learning 

happens without mistakes.  We go ahead and try to hide our 

mistakes.  To stuff them away in the dark closet of our teacher      

guilt which gets more and more crowded all the time.  We pretend 

they didn’t happen.  We blame someone else for why our lesson 

didn’t work.  We get angry at the class for not doing what we 

planned which they might have done if we’d planned.  We get angry 

at ourselves but we don’t recognize that anger as having anything 

to do with our guilt and shame about making mistakes in the first 

place.  Instead, we go through another day at school hoping that 

the next day we’ll forget our mistakes and resolve not to make 

another mistake for the rest of the year.  Until…

So, when do we get off this roller coaster and realize, 

acknowledge, embrace, even celebrate our mistakes?  When do we 

use these mistakes as learning opportunities?  If we don’t 

practice this ourselves then how can we expect our students to 

feel comfortable making mistakes and to learn from them?  So, I 

have a new resolution for this fall.  (Will this be a mistake?  

To make a resolution, I mean? If it is then I can examine it the 

way I would any other mistake and learn so that I can do better 

next time.  Hmmm…Is that the purpose of examining our mistakes?  

So that we can get it better next time?  Might be a mistake.)

     Anyway, here it goes:  I resolve to recognize when I’ve made a 

mistake (not hard to do since this is often experienced 

viscerally, first).  I will then attempt to make up for my 

mistake or change my teaching so that it reflects what I’ve 

learned as a result of my mistake.  Rather than wallowing in my 

mistake I resolve to wallow in the solution to the mistake – what 

will I change, make up, adjust, take away, add, etc as a result?

Wish me luck.  This is a new approach to the beginning of 

the school year for me.  I can feel my throat getting stuck as I 

try to shift my mind set to this new way of thinking.  All new 

ways of thinking are painful; this won’t be any different.