This post originally appeared in the Jackson Township School District Elementary Curriculum & Instruction Monthly Newsletter.
There’s no such thing as the perfect lesson, the perfect day in school, or the perfect teacher. For teachers and students alike, the goal is not perfection but persistence in the pursuit of understanding important things ~ Tomlinson & McTighe
When I began the school year last year, I was warned about the group coming up. “Worst crew in ages,” or “just wait, you will want to retire.”
With these words in the forefront of my mind, I lamented about how I wanted the year to go. I promised to do everything in my power to make it a great year. When these kids walked onto the buses for the last time in June, it would be with heads held high and a smile stretched across their cheeks and maybe even a tear in their eyes.
September slipped away before anyone even noticed. Bad habits crept in when I wasn’t looking. This was not the picture I had in my mind for the way I wanted the year to go. Already, patterns of negative behavior were erupting. My teaching was right on pace with the curriculum, but within weeks, learning wasn’t happening like I planned. Kids were confused, behaviors were unraveling and I was getting frustrated. The beautiful vision I had in my mind was soon replaced by me being annoyed with them.
One night while working on my lesson plans for the following week, my stomach was in a knot. I thought, “I was warned about this class and I’m right on track with all of my lessons, so why am I feeling like such a hypocrite?” It hit me hard. “It’s not them, it’s me”. My gut knew. I had a great curriculum, but what I didn’t have was a willing audience. I had lost them already. So, I jammed on the brakes, put it in neutral and took stock of how I got into this mess. I was plowing through the curriculum in spite of the classroom culture. Barely nestled into October and my promise was already broken.
With my new mindset, Monday came and deadlines were adjusted. I cut myself a break and trusted that I would get these kids to where they needed to be as soon as they were ready to get “where they needed to be”. I knew that my real goal then was to help my students to come to me everyday with an open mind and an open heart. I knew they were already experts in practicing poor habits. So I began my mantra, stolen from Vince Lombardi, “Practice Does Not Make Perfect. Only Perfect Practice Makes Perfect”. Until they changed their behavior and started practicing behavior perfectly I couldn’t expect a healthy learning environment where we could move on and succeed. Who would ever allow a child to repeatedly practice 5 x 5 = 12? So why would any educator allow a child to repeatedly practice other bad habits? Why was I?
So as a new week began, it was back to basics. Back to week one of school, to when I respectfully, patiently, clearly, and repeatedly, explained and modeled all of my expectations. I thought I would be met with sighs, eyes rolling and remarks like “Are you seriously telling me how to walk in the hallway?’ or “I can figure out how to pick a book”. Surprisingly enough, I saw relief in the eyes looking back at me. My heart softened on impact.
At the end of just one week, I realized that I was smiling a lot more and so were my kids. I reflected on that week and the changes we all made, then I cut myself a break once again. I gave myself permission to follow my gut. I showed my students that they were more important than deadlines. Without compromising the integrity of the education I would give them, the curriculum and classroom management merged pretty quickly. I remembered my promise, how I would do everything in my power to make it a great year. So I gave them the opportunity to succeed.
We were a work in progress, and we were certainly not on a path without bumps. We were on a journey of opportunity that would be navigated and rerouted as needed. Just like in our own lives, when we come upon a detour blocking the way to our destination, we do not abandon our journey. Instead, through persistence, we do everything in our power to figure out how to get from where we are to where we want to be. Maybe we check Google maps, pull over and ask for help, or maybe we just use our good ole’ instincts. If we are willing to do whatever it takes to find our way to the mall through detours, traffic or heavy construction, then we better be willing to work much harder to navigate our way through a successful school year.
Begin this great year by making promises to your students to help create learning and life opportunities for all of your learners. More importantly be persistent in keeping your promises TO THEM.
Whatever it takes!