Just Me Rambling (Again)

August 30th.

The date of my last post.

My excuse? I’m a teacher and it’s September.

My motivation today?

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113 on demand narrative writing pre-assessments.

Now don’t get me wrong. I actually enjoy correcting pre-assessments. Especially the narratives my students write at the beginning of the year. Not only do I get a snapshot of where they are as writers, but I get a glimpse into their personal lives as well.

Nonetheless, 113 seems rather daunting. And so this is serving as my source of motivation as I write today. (Motivation…avoidance…procrastination…whatever.)

So far, this school year has had an undecidedly different feel to it, although the Welcome Back Convocation started off as usual. I entered the auditorium, eagerly sought out my coworkers, and settled into my comfy seat, where I proceeded to catch up and exchange pleasantries with my school friends.

My conversation was abruptly interrupted by a powerful, dramatic, complex piano composition. I quickly looked to the stage and saw the silhouette of a pianist seated at a baby grand piano. When the last notes were played and the sound faded away, the screen barrier rose, and  a well dressed high school senior stood and took a bow, before assuming his role as master of ceremonies at the podium on stage.

Now typically, students who are chosen for this prestigious role appear to have the world at their feet, so I was not at all surprised by this young man’s intelligence, sense of humor, and talent.  Just like those who have gone before him, he appeared to have it all.

But I was wrong.

This young man talked about his dark days. He talked about anxiety and depression.

And then, he talked about the teachers who had taken the time to get to know him. He talked about how they had reached out when they saw he was troubled. He talked about how they made a difference in his life.

I found myself feeling rather ashamed by the assumptions I had made.

And then, the school board president rose and took the podium. She spoke of the powerful role we played in the lives of our students. She spoke of the importance of building relationships. She spoke about knowing their stories.

She then spoke about her own child, and the gratitude she felt towards the teachers that acknowledged her child’s gifts before pointing out her child’s shortcomings.

Clearly absent was talk of standardized test scores…pay raises for performance …effectiveness plans…student learning objectives…

The following day, I continued to navigate unchartered waters. In the past, staff meetings have included anonymous bios of students, with the goal of discussing, “How can we best help this student?”

And this meeting was no different. Toward the end of the meeting however, things took a turn. My principal projected an anonymous student’s bio for us to reflect upon, and then excused herself to get a drink while we discussed our ideas. The bio revealed less than ideal circumstances for the student. There were many hardships, many obstacles in this student’s life.

When my principal returned, she asked for feedback. She wanted to know what we were thinking.

After several staff members volunteered their thoughts, she went to the next slide. On it were three pictures. One was of a little girl around early elementary school age. Another was of a young girl probably of middle school age. And the third was of a young woman wearing a cap and gown, receiving her master’s degree.

My principal struggled to speak. And that’s when I understood.

She was that student.

All around me I could hear sniffling. I wiped away my tears and looked at those around me who were doing the same.

She gathered herself, and went on to speak of the teachers that had made a difference in her life.

A profound moment in my teaching career.

And then this past week, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend a worksite wellness conference where I attended a session entitled “Workplace Wellness: A Catalyst for an Engaging Life”.

The session challenged us to look at employee engagement in wellness programs differently, suggesting that…

Perhaps if the goal of a wellness program was to help employees thrive, rather than save money, the results would be different.

And that’s when I started thinking…

Perhaps if the goal of education was to help students thrive, rather than achieve high test scores, the results would be different.

Perhaps our educational system is lacking because we are focused on the wrong goal.

Perhaps we are going about things the wrong way.

Education is so much more than the curriculum taught and the standards addressed. And it most certainly is so much more than a student’s grade or a teacher’s effectiveness rating. There are just too many things these tools can’t measure.

Because education is also about assuming responsibility for oneself and demonstrating empathy towards others. It’s about taking risks without the paralyzing fear of a bad grade. It’s about working together. It’s about being a good person.

I know all of this. But in spite of this knowledge, there are times my view becomes clouded. I catch myself pushing forward when my instinct is to take a deep breath and slow it down.

And that’s what I’m focusing on this year: slowing things down, living in the moment and being present.

I’m in the midst of my traditional “Getting to Know You” conferences with my students. And while there’s nothing new, or earth shattering about this, it too has a different feel to it. I’m not pushing to get through 113 conferences.

I’m just sitting down, face to face, with a student who has their own story to tell.

And listening.