I pride myself on being a reflective teacher, and know that it’s one of my strengths. Some reflections come as a result of quiet thought or shared conversation, referring back to an interaction or a lesson, and brainstorming what went well and what could be tweaked for next time.
Some reflections come out of nowhere – unasked for, unexpected, but powerful in what they reveal.
I stumbled across a colleague’s blog tonight. And by stumbled, I mean I Googled it. In today’s age of social media, it’s hard to resist digging a little deeper sometimes. I wanted to get to know this teacher a little better. Susannah is relatively new at my school, and she came into a tough classroom. Everybody had an opinion on why the classroom was crumbling, and why the skills and practices that Susannah brought to it weren’t going to help. I understand, a little – teachers were fed up with the kids’ behaviors and constant changes, and she came in on the tail end of it, thereby bearing the brunt of everyone’s frustrations. But because she came into this situation, she didn’t get a fair start – not only did Susannah take over a troubled class, she immediately had to go on the defensive from the very people who should have been helping her.
As I write that, I feel guilty. As with any school I’ve been with, ours can be a hotbed for gossip. It’s so frustrating – is it because we’re a group of mostly women, that we become so catty and challenging? When did gossip replace conversation? I feel uncomfortable around the gossip talks, but I also don’t know how to gracefully (or not-so-gracefully) ask someone to stop, so I mostly just kept my silence and didn’t contribute to these conversations; but silence feels like consent.
Over time, I realized that Susannah was not at all what other teachers made her out to be – their view of Susannah was about them, not about her. They would do something this way, and she did it that way. They weren’t seeing her through objective eyes, but through judgmental eyes – critical eyes, ready to see the negative, but not quite as quick to see the positive.
On Susannah’s blog, I read a post that she wrote just a few weeks after she started. She was reflecting on two interactions that she’d had with her class, about giving her students the freedom to play. She wrote about teachers who restrict kids’ play and their imaginations, saying “No” for the sake of No – for the sake of not making a mess, or keeping their bodies to themselves, or playing the “right” way with a toy; or possibly even just for the sake of making the day go by just a little bit easier.
BAM! Her insights on how to treat children, how to interact with them and encourage them, and on how she can teach within those realizations – they were so fantastic. As I read her words, my heart and my mind were filling up. I began thinking about my interactions with students – am I encouraging them enough? Do I offer them enough freedom for their imaginations, enough support for their struggles? Am I treating them with respect, as little human beings, while acknowledging their imperfections and as-yet-unformed selves?
I think, mostly, that the answer is “Yes”. But I also think that I am not always intentional about it. So this reflection – this teacher’s words, this teacher’s heart, her empathy for her students – was entirely unexpected. I had no inkling that I was going to be hit with something that stopped me in my tracks, that made me review who I am as a teacher, and who I want to be – but I am so grateful for Susannah’s dedication, her strength, and her love for her students and what she does.
She doesn’t know it, but she just changed me a little bit. Unless she Googles me, she probably won’t read this blog – I don’t really advertise it, and we’re not connected on social media. But I am grateful all the same, and I will show my thanks by incorporating her practices into my own. In teaching, imitation really is a form of flattery – you pick up the methods and practices from teachers you admire, and put them to use in your own room. So – thank you, Susannah, for helping me become a better teacher.