Monday, August 6, 2012

The Ones We Lose

Paul Bogush recently posted a blog entitled, "I'm not..are you?"  If you don't follow Paul and his blog, you should.  It always makes me think.  This one not only had me thinking...I decided I needed to respond here.

Paul's blog was about his year and why he felt it didn't go as well as previous years.  As he says:

I always expect to improve each year, so I was expecting 100 miracles this year. I was expecting to top last year and have people carve my bust out of stone and place it at convenient locations to view across my town.  But it was not to be…halfway through the year I realized that I was not being as successful as I had been in the past.

That last line really got to me - halfway through the year I realized that I was not being as successful as I had been in the past.  This was exactly how I was feeling this year and for many of the same reasons as Paul.  I had let myself become the most important person in the room.  I made all decisions, chose all the demonstration methods, and taught all the lessons.  My students loved coming to school but I wasn't as successful as I have been in the past.  I am glad that both Paul and I recognize what went wrong so we can try again this year.

And that is what I keep thinking about days after reading his blog.  I keep thinking about the kids I lost and how I would change things today.  And maybe, I never really lost those kids.

There was Lionel (all names have been changed).  He came to me with a classification and a huge chip on his shoulder.  His parents were very powerful in the school community.  They made the decisions about his education and God help the teachers who didn't follow along.  I saw this entitlement as a real detriment to Lionel's maturation.  He could not accept responsibility for anything.  It was always someone else's fault.  Even when he struggled with school work.  It was my fault or the child who sat next to him and disturbed him or his mom who didn't help with homework.  Never just a struggle.  I worked all year to get him to be cooperative and responsible.  I wanted him to learn the academics, but, until we got past the emotional part, the academics couldn't be addressed.  

Can+I+get+away+with+it%3FBy the end of the year, I was sure I had failed.  He still complained about any partner he might have, fought daily on the playground, caused trouble in class, and did no work.  I waited for the year to end and me to be rid of him.  And then I remembered.  Yes, he still complained about his partners but, at the beginning of the year, he would sit in a group and sulk, not doing any work at all.  Now he was working, albeit moaning the whole time.  And he smiled when he was complimented for his accomplishments.  Yes, he still caused trouble in class but now he was able to apologize for causing the trouble instead of blaming someone else.  And his parents were no longer in control.  They actually backed me up when it came to him not doing homework.  Did I fail?  By anyone else's standards, yes.  But not by Lionel's.  He did make progress.  And two years later, when I ran into him up at the middle school, he stopped, shook my hand and asked me how I was doing.  This was HUGE!  Maybe I did something.

Sun+Yat-SenWhat about Tamara?  She relied more on her charm than on her brains.  She never really tried very hard, gave up quickly, and then, smiling cutely, said she just didn't understand.  But tears did come easily when she was informed that she was expected to do the work.  I tried to get her interested in various methods of demonstration.  She always started enthusiastically but petered out long before results were seen.  Podcasts, videos, newsletters, chatrooms, texting, discussions...I could not find the key.  I failed.

I let her move on to middle school knowing that she would not be successful.  She ended up in a smaller class and felt even worse about herself.  Cut to three years later.  She comes back to visit and tells me that she has finally made it out of the self-contained class.  "I just kept remembering how you told me I could do it if I only tried.  So I finally tried.  And I did it.  My math and reading scores went up and I do my work now."  Now I am sure that her middle school teachers also had much to do with her success, but it is good to know that I didn't really lose her.  She just wandered away for a bit.

There are so many.  Each year, I think of at least one child who I just didn't do right by.  Last year it was Jason.  He drove me crazy all year, barely doing any work, invading my personal space, interrupting conversations.  But luckily, I get to have him again this year.  I am going to make sure that I find my patience for him.  He deserves it.  He needs the attention.  He needs the support.  He needs to feel that I am thrilled to see him each day.  And I will be...keeping in mind that I will not lose him!

So Paul Bogush, thank you for being such an amazing, honest teacher.  Thank you for helping me face my shortcomings and do better.  I am not the smartest in the room.  But I am sure going to keep trying!