oh, the hard lessons…

For the last four years I studied to be a teacher, I dreamed of being a teacher who inspired my students to become their best selves; students who get excited about learning, students who show compassion to others, students who see themselves as the smart and talented individuals they are.

So here I am, 8 months into my teaching career and there is so much I love about it. I love these students. I really do feel blessed to teach them.

But let me be honest with you …

Teaching is hard.

I wouldn’t trade the relationships I’m developing with these students for a cushy office job. Never, ever. But sometimes {like right now} I feel the responsibility, frustration, and exhaustion of being a teacher(or maybe just an adult?). Sometimes it is just plain overwhelming.

I am currently giving my midterm exam… conveniently Kaitlyn and I were able to switch off times we give exams to the 11th grade and so, though my testing time is now a whole morning event, the testing groups are only 6 students, which I can isolate to the extremitys of the room and (hopefully) finally prevent cheating (which is why I can write a blog entry while I proctor, instead of “hawk” over them!). And as I sit here, a student sniffles and cries through my test, and my heart is breaking a little.

All quarter I have encouraged these 11th graders to keep a “Math Toolbox”. This is a literal version of “The little black bag” that my high school geometry teacher, Bob Raber, told us to file away theorems, postulates, definitions, etc. into. While we were able to use a notecard on most test (praise the LORD!) he would tell us to “put it in our little black bag”, i.e. our brain. These students are very used to memorizing information, they are good at it. But as a teacher I want more than that. I want more than memorizing something/cramming for a test and then promptly forgetting it. I want them to learn to problem solve, to think creatively, to understand why and how we know postulates and theorems and how to use them! I want them to be thinkers. So I’ve told them again and again that I would rather they use their brain power to know how they can use tools that they look up, than to memorize facts and exact definitions and not know what they mean or how to use them. Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “Never memorize something that you can look up.” and I figure if a math/science “genius” like Einstein didn’t memorize tables of information, I can probably take it as sound advice for myself and my students. I will concede however that of course, after you use/do something over and over again it gets stored in your long term memory….a little trick our brains do that we teachers take full advantage of. Why do you think we use repetition so much?

But back to the story, they have been keeping a “Math Toolbox” which they were given the privilege of using on their midterm. The catch? Only that they had to use their own “toolbox”, that they needed to be prepared and responsible enough to do it and keep it up to date. But apparently I should have added one more condition, you have to remember to bring it to the test. Which is why I am sitting here listening to sniffles during my midterm. And it’s kinda breaking my heart.

I’m all about natural consequences. If you bring a water balloon to school and break it in class all over yourself, you have to go the rest of the day with wet pants (true story).  But sometimes it’s really hard to watch a poor mistake, or hold students to certain standards. Especially if they fail to see that you are doing it because you care about them. That you want them to be responsible, and to learn, and succeed. That you want them to be safe, and kind to others. That you want them to be better than you were or are.

I don’t know how many times I am asked what a word means during a test…and how many times that “unknown” word is in fact one of their vocabulary words and I have to say, “I can’t tell you…it’s a vocab word”. Or to watch them waste minutes and minutes of test time doing a problem wrong, only to realize had they read the directions, they could have done the problem in half the time (and I hope they do realize because grading is excruciating when there are mistakes because someone chose not to follow the directions).

If I look at the reasons I wanted to be a teacher though, I notice that it really had nothing to do with content and everything to do with molding individuals to be responsible, think for themselves, and believe in themselves and others, so I guess I’m not that far off. I just wish it wasn’t so hard sometimes.

But it means something, I wouldn’t trade it.

I just want to end with some reflections on how I am being changed by the interactions I have with my students. As much as I am teaching them, they are teaching me.. to be more patient, feel less like I have to always be put-together, to try for my actions to be the embodiment of grace-filled, and the need to invite a faithful God into my day to make it anywhere close to successful.  I’m thankful to them for the ways they refine me, teaching me about grace and forgiveness and the promise of a new day after a particularly difficult class.

We are all learning the hard lessons.


One thought on “oh, the hard lessons…

  1. Yes, Lots of repetition is needed for the lesson/formula to sink in. You are thinking like a teacher and write very thoughtfullly. God bless you today!

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