Saturday, February 24, 2018

Arm Me With...Time

I started teaching almost 20 years ago. Lately, I've been reflecting on my earlier days as a teacher, particularly since I'm at a bit of a crossroads right now.  I started my career on the south side of Chicago, where I spent almost my entire life. I've worked at some pretty challenging schools like many of you who may be reading this.  I recall the police coming to my room to question half of my 8th-grade boys about some thefts in the neighborhood. I recall a huge pool of blood on the playground at that same school due to a disagreement between rival gangs. I recall wearing gym shoes (sneakers for those of you in a different region) because I never knew when I was going to have to run or break up a fight.

I also recall arriving at school with the janitors at 6 a.m. so that I would have quiet time to pour over my students' work, lesson plans and to simply be present for kids who viewed my room as a safe haven. I had a stash of treats in my closet because they were often hungry. I had a virtual beauty supply store on the shelf for the girls who came to school with their hair disheveled and unkempt. I vividly recall "Sasha" pointing out, "I feel better when I look better. I think it's better for everybody if I'm cute!"  I remember pouring over homework and giving individual time for each and every student who came early and stayed beyond the 2:30 bell.

I recall all of this to say I actually LOVED teaching back then. Was it challenging? There are no words to describe how challenging it was many days. But it was also rewarding and I find myself trying to figure out what has changed so much in the last 20 years.  Right now, I'm in a space where I'm realizing that lacking autonomy in my classrooms has someone deflated me over the years. I used to create lessons from scratch and differentiate before it was "mandated" and scripted. You see, teachers already know which kids struggle with what. Given the time to fail, tinker and work through it creatively makes a difference. It made ALL the difference for me.

I worry about the explosion of over scrutiny I witness in classrooms across the country. I worry about constantly hearing students referred to in tiers and seen as data points. Data is of course important. But what teachers need more than hundreds of meetings and mandates about data is time to creatively figure out what to do about it. We know the data. We know our kids. So please arm me with:

  • Time to fail and try again
  • Time to use new strategies and revise or trash them if needed
  • Time to talk to my kids about things that have nothing to do with their grades; things like what's happening at home, their fears, their passions
  • Time to talk to my colleagues about how to deal with challenges as they arise
  • Time to connect with other educators whose daily struggles and victories mirror mine

Arm me with time.

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