It's five o'clock and I stare at my empty lesson plan template. It's hard not to feel a little shame when I consider this school year. I thought I would have kids using the standing centers. It isn't happening yet. I thought I would do one-on-one conferences each day. That's been hit or miss. I thought I would intentionally grade assignments each day to pull small groups.
My summertime dreams have faded. I'm a little lost right now. I haven't yelled at anyone, but I've nagged the class. I've taken it really personal that five weeks into the year I still have kids talking when I'm talking. That hasn't been the case in the last seven years or so. I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong.
I get to school early and begin filling out my data walls. I never finish the RCBM chart and I secretly worry that I'll be reprimanded for it. I look at my lesson plans and realize the date is wrong on a few of them. Then I try and remember which members of our school were supposed to get my common assessment scores from last week. I know there's a way to create an e-mail list, but I'm a little too tired and too disappointed with myself to let it happen.
I'm worried, not about small group instruction, but about whether they will observe it. I'm not concerned about discourse, but about whether it looks like students are engaged in discourse. I check my objectives. Do they have the dreaded by section that turns a cognitive process into a measurable behavior? I find myself double-checking that I have the right information on the board. I remind myself to stick to my lesson without calling an audible (when in the past I stuck to more of a no-huddle offense with the plan as simple that - a loose plan).
I push through the beginning parts of the grammar lesson. As I walk around monitoring the structured discourse, a girl asks me, "Are you angry or afraid right now?"
I'm jarred by the honesty of her question.
"A little of both right now," I admit.
"Are you angry at us?"
"No. Not at all. I hate these walls," I admit. "In my last class, the walls weren't covered with instructions. They were covered with pictures and paintings from students. It felt less like I walked into a textbook and more like I walked into a living museum each day."
"It sounds pretty," she says. "Or beautiful. Which word am I supposed to use?"
"You can choose. There's not always a rule to language."
I'm teaching out of fear. I'm worried about not looking good. I'm ashamed that I've been a nag of a teacher using phrases like, "You know better than to blah blah blah." I'm obsessing over how it looks rather than whether it works.
So I call an audible. It's third and long and even though the kids are getting the future progressive, they're also learning that language is boring; and that is sin enough to repent on the spot. So, I ask them to describe life in 2030. When they use the future perfect tense, I ask them to add clauses, and the class comes alive. The learning feels real. We talk about the utopia and dystopia.
Today, I'm calling more audibles. Screw it. We're making a documentary. I'm giving them more freedom in their blogs. I'll pull kids for one-on-one conferences even if I worry that the class might get off-task. We're making children's books for the children's hospital, even if the department says narratives should be more autobiographical and less creative.
I'm going back to what I believe works rather than trying to look good for the Clipboard Crew that might be observing me. I may alienate people, but hopefully I'll be alienating the right people; because right now, the ones who are alienated are the students. I'm going to start off the day with an apology for nagging, for allowing some subjects to get boring and for allowing language to be a barrier to critical thinking. Our best class periods have involved projects, so I'm switching to completely project-based.
I'm not going to let fear dictate what my classroom looks like.