“If you aren’t measuring the right things to begin with, you’re not going to get better results by measuring them more accurately.” – Martha Rogers
As we are nearing the end of our time together, it is natural to reflect on how far these children, our teaching approach, and the classroom community as a whole has progressed. This is something we do every year. This year though I find myself measuring our progress on a harsh curve. I find myself comparing this group of children to classrooms I have had in the past, yearning for that one year the children had superb perseverance skills, or the time the children flourished in the garden or the group of children who were able to walk around the entire city with minimal micro-managing. I have been teaching for seven years now, which, I think, is an adequate amount of time to leave me in this strange place of even having something to compare each year to but not yet having enough experience to know better. Before, if I had a rough year, it was just another part of the job. And it is. Some years are harder than others, and what makes them hard will differ from teacher to teacher. I have until this point, not known what my boundaries were. This year taught me what I find difficult about teaching, but also reminded me what I love about teaching. Now I am having to pull in the emotional reigns and as I do I am able to more clearly reflect on just how much progress we have all made this year.
“Every ounce of effort we put into our children today will some day be measured and accounted for in our children’s future.” – Robert John Meehan
Today was a clear example of progress made this year. R and K were sitting on the carpet surrounded by ocean animals. Every time K picked up an animal, R would make an upset face and quickly snatch up a different animal. K seemed unaware of the effect he was having on R. Eventually R ran out of animals to collect in his lap and quickly grabbed a stingray that K was holding. When I was walking them through the conflict resolution process, R said he wanted all of them so he could use them to pretend to attack K with them. K stated he didn’t want to play that game, that he was wanting to create an ocean. A, who was nearby, suggested they use the blue carpet to place the animals on. K and R agreed, but R still wanted the string ray. R said, “I know we can use that machine that makes pictures of things, then we will have the toy and the picture to use.” I clarified, “You want to use the copier to make a copy of the stingray? Who would have the physical object, and who would have the photo copy?” R answered, “I will have the photo copy and K will have the physical object.” K agreed and off we went to make a copy of the stingray.
“Education begins the moment we see children as innately wise and capable beings. Only then can we play along in their world.” – Vince Gowman
There are many things I would do differently if I could start this year over. It wasn’t my first difficult school year, but it was my the first school year I allowed myself to wallow in what these kids aren’t. It was the first year I experienced the reality of what teacher burnout can be. It was the first year I gave up. Because I did. I gave up on this year months ago, and through what felt like defeat, I was able to start over. I lowered my expectations, and started seeing these kids for who they are. I am forever a different teacher than I was before this year. That’s the progress I have made: I have discovered that I couldn’t reach these children, I couldn’t discover who they are, until I let go of my image of who they could be, until I let go of skewed image of a child. We talk a lot in Reggio Emilia Inspired contexts about the value of our Image of a Child and that has never been as clear as it is now. My image of who these children are affected how I taught them, what provocations I set up, what the environment looked like, where we went for walks and even simply how I spoke to them.
After the conflict was resolved, R and K walked behind me as we made our way to the copier. I heard R say to K, “We solved our problem, we did a good job didn’t we! We should be proud of us.” Yes R, you really should.
“If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress.” – Barack Obama