...The truth is we all get frustrated at different times of the year, but it seems that February is typically one of our most stressful months...
My hope is that each of you find the little things each day that keep you motivated. Maybe it's a student who has grown academically or socially in your class. Maybe it's the hug you get from a student or co-worker. My challenge to you is to not forget that the seeds we are planting with our kids every day. Even on our worst day, we may still be a child's best chance. Don't lose sight of that. Don't forget to smile, laugh, and encourage each other as we fight the "negativity monster" that rears it's ugly head this time of year...
I am always grateful for all that you do!
Add to this the divorces we experience, the alcoholism that runs rampant around us, the drug epidemics, mental health issues, and mass shootings, and we begin to think there is no escape from a society that spirals out of control. Closer to home, things like that argument over breakfast, playing video games until midnight, and wondering when the electricity will be turned back on can have a toll, as well.
And I won't even mention bloody blue full moons in full eclipse, snow/ice days and iffy cancellations, and daily weather deviations that come with the gradual turning of winter into spring.
All of these things and others affect us.
But it's not just the kids (and with that, I poke my toe into controversial waters). I wonder why we often don't see what our own actions and reactions do to children - why we don't understand that the adults are the ones who are stressed.
Perhaps we heard there was a high tide, and we expected our students' behaviors to change. In reality, those behaviors didn't change, but as we expected them to, we perceived that they did.
Perhaps we project our own rough nights, sleeplessness, and early risings onto our classes, again with an expectation that is more perceived than real.
Perhaps, as adults, we pay more attention to fluctuating weather patterns and, living inside our own bubbles, we depress ourselves, rather than face each day as another moment in our life's walk. Who care's what the weather is today? Adapt and just keep swimming.
Perhaps we project our own inner feelings onto others and see them as the ones who are negative (Just because I don't greet the morning with a smile and a whistle doesn't mean I don't want to be here, and just because you cover your true feelings with a loud talk and louder laughter doesn't mean you want to be here!).
Maybe we are starting to see our own failures for the year. As standardized testing approaches, we might be a little more anxious about getting our students ready. As a result, teachers often start exhibiting higher expectations about this time and exacting stricter consequences on their students.
But is that all fair, or am I barking up the wrong tree? I mean, should I leave well enough alone, let office referrals to increase, listen to more and more teachers blaming parents, more and more parents blaming teachers, more and more this, and more and more that?
Am I failing in my position if my class is different? Should I be feeling more pressure to have stricter expectations now than I had at the beginning of the year?
Our class has had conversations of late about what makes us different. It's interesting to find out if my twenty-one fourth graders have the same perceptions about life in our school than I do. Do they see the same things? Do they know something I don't know?
For example, when one young man admits that we had a rocky start, but that now things have changed, that means something to me. When several proudly proclaim that we are weird class (where it's all right to be unique), that's revolutionary. When we feel like we're a family - and not just say that we are - that brightens my day.
Because, you see, we have come a long way this year. When we entered in August, this particular group of kids had some issues - primarily that several individuals chose to be offended by every little statement, tease, or expression. They looked for ways to be victims of society, systems, other students, and the teacher. Some openly recanted that things weren't fair, that I was being mean, that they were being "triggered". They wanted to retreat into safe places, away from their problems. They cried, displayed expressions of disgust and disbelief, and backtalked.
But I wanted them to be more resilient than that. I wanted them to empathize with other people. I needed for them to see issues from different perspectives. And I think we've ended in a very different spot than where we started. It has taken a long time, but we finally at a place where students can appreciate a teacher who's not playing Mickey Mouse games with them, but who deals with them honestly and with respect. They see now that their teacher doesn't only demand respect from them, but he respects them in return. They see that we are different - with fewer office referrals, less teacher anxiety, and more kid happiness than some of the other classes.
Years ago, I understood something: many parents and teachers start out lax with their children and tighten the reins of control as time goes on, but once freedoms have been granted, it is very hard to tighten expectations. Instead, I front-load my expectations: I need my students to understand my expectations, rules, consequences, goals, etc. from the beginning. In doing so, I can relax the reins as the year progresses. This time between Christmas and Spring Break is a great time to grant more freedoms rather than take freedoms away - assuming that expectations have been established and personalities are understood. This keeps my own stress level at a minimum, allows me to mellow, and keeps me from taking out my stress on others.
Hey! It was a rough beginning to the year. Back in August, I wasn't sure if things were going to work for this class, but now I can the fruit of our labor. We have climbed a long way to get to where we are.
Sometimes I wonder if I'm missing something. I probably am. Maybe it's just how things are after you've been on the job for almost three decades. Lest an educator reading this gasp, perhaps you should stop reading now: sometimes I think things are too easy, that there's too much "planning" time in my schedule, and that I'm not working hard enough.
We don't always get there, and we all have our days, but at least we're able to talk about it and support each other. I am grateful that we stuck out through our tough start so we could come to this point in our class. On this, I hope parents and students agree.