Teaching: my thoughts on this day

As a person who holds the profession in esteem, I constantly question if I am “good enough” to teach. It’s such a unique career, and I think a lot about what my students need from me, and the truth is I can’t be everything to everyone.

Some days I think my students really need a teacher who knows they care about them on a personal level, to develop relationships with my students that will help them get through the day, get through high school. I have students who pop in and they just need me to see them, to support them in that small way, maybe even just make them feel like they belong somewhere in the building for a minute or two.

Other days, I think they need a teacher who will provide rigor and challenges. Some days I know they need a break, and some time to just be kids. I try to provide a balance and I strive to create engaging content and assignments. It kind of feels like feeding a ravenous beast with an insatiable appetite. They come into my classroom each day and, rightfully so, expect to be taught something, to do something interesting. (I’m under no delusion that all students find my class interesting, at the very least, they expect to have their time occupied.)

I have freshmen and they range in maturity, interest levels in the curriculum (or in school period), attention, quickness in work… they’re people and so of course they’re all different. Differentiation is a nice thought, but I have yet to meet a teacher who is able to plan 3 different lessons for each class period.

It’s challenging for me to see – or believe I see – what they each need and at least try to meet their needs… all while lesson planning, grading, running a yearbook staff, etc.. I think you almost need a degree of separation, to hide your heart a little bit, and to shelter yourself from the constant needs of students, just to make it through the week. But, I have a really hard time dong that.

I have students who I worry about because they’re crying or suffering anxiety, depression, or poor self-esteem. I wonder what kind of relationships they have outside of school.

There are students who I see developing a positive relationship with peers and with me as their teacher, and I love those moments. Those moments where I see students growing and becoming stronger, healthier, and feeling good about it. I love when there is the right culture going in a class. When we have hit the sweet spot: the kids are engaged, there’s just a touch of humor in play, the kids are respectful and know their boundaries. Those moments are awesome. And if that’s what teaching was for 8 hours a day I would be on Cloud 9, feeling like I just won the Super Bowl everyday. But then there are those other class periods.

Where kids are so disrespectful and rude. This is what I have a serious problem with. It is incredibly difficult to deal with adolescents who are testing their boundaries, pushing the limits, and they’re doing it in a negative way. I try to withhold energy from them, but that is extremely difficult to do when they’re being disruptive. Those classes make me think perhaps I am not cut out for this job. Those classes test me every single day. (Okay, its not even those classes – it’s one class I have this semester. But it seems like there’s always one in every semester!)

Sending kids to detention. Why do I have such a problem with writing kids up? I think I hold them to a level of maturity that I want for them, but that they don’t have yet. When I send a kid to go get “punished,” then I feel like they aren’t coming to the realization that what they’re doing is wrong and they’re missing that opportunity to grow. When a student can come to that realization themselves and self-correct, that’s what I aim for and like to see. When that doesn’t happen, I really struggle.

I don’t like having to interrupt the lesson at hand to focus on disciplining one student. I also think if I send them to the office, a lot of times that doesn’t correct the behavior, and what am I going to do? Send them to the office every single day? So it’s a really helpless feeling and it isn’t fair to the student, myself, or the rest of the class.

If this kid were an employee of mine, they’d be long ago fired. If they were a friend, they’d be long ago forgotten. But that’s the thing, when you’re a teacher, you’re just kind of stuck with the kids, all of them: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Now I know you oughtn’t to stick kids into buckets with labels, and trust me I’d love for them to level up, but sometimes, they just keep breaking your heart.

So in a day, I just run through so many different emotions, and like I said, I respect the profession. I respect all  of my students’ time. I feel like there’s too much at stake. Maybe I take my job too seriously. Maybe I’m making myself way too available to my students. I am not sure if I can change that… that might be an essential part of my personality. I can work on it, though.

So this was my first pretty emo post. Ha ha. Send happy vibes my way if you feel so inclined. I’ll be back at it tomorrow! Thanks for reading.

Empathy in The Odyssey

  1. I’m getting close to the end of the semester and my class has just finished Part I of The Odyssey (required text), and we’ll hopefully complete Part II next week.
  2.  I need to have my freshmen students write a multi-paragraph narrative.
  3. I recently attended the #NCTE2016 conference in Atlanta.

In Atlanta, the most inspiring to me were the sessions that recommended, or rather insisted upon bringing your own talents and passions into the classroom. What really drew me to teach English in the first place was the American Transcendentalists. I don’t even teach Junior English currently, but I still love to find ways to make the curriculum relevant or put a twist on it, by bringing in things that I find truly interesting, so that hopefully I can hook some students into that, too. ELA is so flexible that way.

Additionally, I sometimes have to just roll with the curriculum, even if it isn’t something I’m an expert in, like The Odyssey. After teaching The Odyssey for the second time, I do enjoy it because the students get into it: the gods, the hero, the adventure. I also insist on the students reading the text translation closely, and I read it with them. I enjoy the role of the translator so to speak, and I think they need it to really appreciate the story. But, I digress.

Several different educators were working with digital storytelling, empathy, and personal narratives, sometimes all three at once! Herein lies my challenge. I am trying to figure out exactly how to combine The Odyssey, personal narrative, the Hero’s Journey, and empathy.

To create this assignment, I am informed by these ideas, the following quotes, and hopefully, the writing of this post.

From Homer: “Yet, taught by time, my heart has learned to glow for other’s good, and melt at other’s woe.”

From Joseph Campbell: “The achievement of the hero is one that he is ready for and it’s really a manifestation of his character. It’s amusing the way in which the landscape and conditions of the environment match the readiness of the hero. The adventure that he is ready for is the one he gets.”

From a blog I stumbled upon, on The Hero’s Inner Journey: “It is the story of fulfillment. But it is not one that is readily seen, and instead must be perceived through the interpretation of the plot and empathizing with the hero’s ever evolving character. Now within this internal journey, there are three basic character arcs:

  1. To risk being who you really are. The hero learns to stand up for who he is regardless of what others think.

  2. To risk doing what is right. The hero does the honest thing in spite of the consequences.

  3. To risk connecting with others. The hero opens up to relationships even if they bring trouble and sorrow.

I think the three basic character arcs will ultimately be the most helpful in planning this assignment.

I’d love to have students create a narrative and a digital storytelling piece to accompany it. One example I saw showed the students’ voiceover along with stop-motion, illustrations, film, or photography.

The thing that struck me as so special about this assignment was that the focus was on empathy and teaching students how to a) be vulnerable, and b) experience empathy.

So the students described being an outsider (the accompanying text was The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton). Now, I realize The Odyssey is a bit more of a stretch, but  I think I can pull it off.

Currently, I’m thinking of having my students work in pairs to do a close reading activity with the quotes from Homer and Campbell.

I have a series of empathy articles that I will have my students jigsaw.

Then, I’ll introduce the idea of The Hero’s Inner Journey and the character arcs, with special emphasis on: risk, consequences, trouble, sorrow, and empathy.

These activities will lead into the narrative assignment:

Choose the basic character arc that you can relate to the most and tell the story of your own Inner Hero’s Journey.

This is my rough draft anyway…. I’d be interested to hear any feedback. Thanks for reading!

My first blog post.

Again. And I hate writing the first one. It’s the same reason I haven’t been able to make any art lately.

There are too many things to say, too many things to paint, too many things to be.

My indecisiveness has plagued me at every stage of life since I was given the ability to decide things. I could blame this on a lack of confidence in my choices. I don’t know where I come from, but I’m either contrarian in nature or just a product of a Lutheran upbringing taken to heart despite a very conservative home state. (Yes, those things contradict each other imho.) Either way, I find myself second-guessing many of my impulses. I could attribute that to humility, level-headedness (haha), or checks and balances, but it’s probably more like fear. Like, a what if I do what I want to and then everyone can say they told me so when I fail kind of fear.

This has led to a lot of compromises in life.

And who knows? Maybe it has saved me from utter failure and hard times.

It leaves me feeling like every choice I make is a door closed on another, so I think I’ve postponed a lot of choices in my life. And I tend to remain not entirely committed to others. And it’s also stopped me from pursuing a lot of things. I sometimes feel frozen. Stalled. Writer’s blocked in life. Like every commitment is furthering my life path in a direction I can never return from. And it is! But, so what? What’s my hang up? This is what it’s like for everybody, right?

Even journaling. I almost didn’t start this post because it could have been about anything. I could have written a post about ideas for the future of American politics, nostalgia for the landscape of my childhood, the struggles and rewards of being a public educator. Or I could have become overwhelmed and written about nothing.

I guess what I need is discipline. Discipline to just move in any direction, rather than sitting and thinking about how many different directions there are, and trying to pick the perfect one. The paradox of choice?

It’s the same feeling I get when there are 29 different shampoos to choose from.

Overwhelmed. Shampoo doesn’t matter but how I spend my leisure and work, where I live, who I surround myself with: these things do. What I create matters, but it doesn’t matter that much. I think the point is to get messy and have fun and forget about the judgment of the world completely. I know you can’t create art in a vacuum, but maybe, yeah, you kind of can. And maybe I need to shut out the noise and really look inward.

My soul isn’t a vacuum, right? If anything it’s a bridge.

So if you read this, thanks. I’ll be trying to do more of it.