Saying Good-bye

It’s the end of another semester, and as I transition from an academic year focused always on teaching and my students to a summer full of research, it’s time again for a final reflection.

I spent a lot of this semester feeling less than fully present.  I’m not sure if it was the fact that I was teaching two classes at school sites, rather than at the university, which made me feel a bit like a nomad, or if it was due to the 7-9:45pm Monday night class, which I had forgotten the joys of after a semester hiatus from evening classes that allowed me to be home to tuck my son in every night.  Whatever it was, I wondered if my students got the best of me each session.

But, what I realized this semester is that my teaching isn’t really about me at all.  This semester, I more fully approached the idea of “student centered” learning and decentralized my practice so that it wasn’t all about me and what I could give students, but how they could contribute to one another.  Sure, I facilitated that process through modeling responsive feedback and assigning a ton of discussion board posts (sorry, students…well, not really sorry though) and we still learned a lot of strategies through modeling, reading & discussion, but it was a shift in my identity that really contributed to a sense of professional community.

Next semester, I’m hoping to decentralize a bit further and help students draw from the text more clearly.  I’ve been struggling with the place of our course texts in the classroom and I’d really like to do more with them, even just having students tweet about a strategy they found helpful or a question they had in relation to the text.

As one of my students said last night in our final web activity for our course, it’s important for us to reflect on our practice regularly.  It was really encouraging to hear those words. It was encouraging to know that students thought regularly about schema, Vygotsky, language levels of students & literacy in planning their content-based lessons.  It was encouraging to hear the value placed on authentic & responsive feedback, on empathizing with the feelings an EL student faces in the classroom.  It has been encouraging to see the ongoing growth of all my students this semester, growth that pulled me back in those inevitable moments (particularly in the last 1/3 of the semester) where I begin to wonder what I’m doing and if they actually are getting anything from the course.

Thank you, thank you, EDSE 436 & EDSE 457, Spring 2014 semester.  It has been a pleasure learning from and with you and it has been a great privilege watching you learn from another. I will see you around, and remember, “We’ll always have twitter.” 🙂

The Ones that Got Away…

During my time in public schools, I worked with over 750 students and since I’ve come into teacher education, I’ve worked with probably another 250 or so.

1000 students.

And over that time, I’ve received much praise & positive feedback from hundreds of those students, both immediately and for years following their time in my class.

But, what both haunts me and pushes me to improve are the handful of students who walk away from my course feeling like they are taking nothing.

When I was teaching middle school, I knew that there were a lot of external factors in students’ lives that I couldn’t control; I knew that while I made a difference with many of my students, it was statistically impossible to affect every single student; I knew that I had done everything I could for my struggling students–working with their parents, staying long hours after school, providing extra support in class.  But it still hurt.

Today, the hurt returned.  It was one of those days when I felt defeated.  I read a piece of survey data indicating that an anonymous student had found my course worthless, was not using strategies from my course in student teaching and was not considering language & literacy in planning for student teaching.  This is the second time I’ve met with this type of feedback and both times, I have literally been pained.

Perhaps this seems somewhat ridiculous and melodramatic, and perhaps it is.  Perhaps I should focus on the overwhelming positive and not let these few moments even cause me the slightest pause; perhaps I should. But, I realize this pain is not caused by my inner perfectionist striving for people to recognize me as great.  It is caused by my deep commitment, my love of what I teach, my belief in its genuine importance for others, my passion for students–each and every one.

So, of course, I will go on.  I have class to teach in just a couple of hours and copies to make prior to that.  But, I will also keep pushing for 100% and not 99.5% knowing that to do less wouldn’t honor the teacher that I am and those that I hope will follow in future generations.