Trying to Find A Balance

Did I mention this is my 8th year of teaching? I guess I keep bringing it up, because it's kind of hard to believe. When compared to the colleagues at my school with decades of experience, it doesn't seem like much at all, but it definitely feels farther than I thought I'd ever go.

When you're a new teacher, there's so many small parts of teaching you're figuring out. And you're getting bombarded in some ways by advice on what to do. You've got feedback from your principal, tips from veteran teachers, and "best practices" from professional development consultants. You have to sift through it all and somehow try to put it together into some sort of coherent educational philosophy.

At this point, I feel like I have arrived at some clarity around my educational philosophy. I'm not quite yet how to articulate it without using a dozen different education buzzwords, but essentially I want to treat kids with respect, help kids treat others with respect, and help them learn as much as possible about content that's meaningful to them.

Still, in the details, I'm working to figure some things out. At the end of the day, I try to ground my practice in my philosophy. But at the same time, I'm somewhat agnostic, because I want to do whatever will be best for my students. And sometimes if something's not working (i.e. students aren't learning) it's easy to question if it's the right thing to do.

I don't think that a lot of these decisions are either/or. One of the frustrating things I've found in education is a tendency to break things down this way. I think the effective practice is mostly likely a balance between two extremes. I'm still working on finding that balance though in a few areas.

For example...

Should I sweat the small stuff or let it go?

Kids are kids, and I hate to stay on their case over little things. However, sometimes paying attention to little things sends a message that you're paying attention, you care, and you expect better. It's the beginning of the year, and my co-teacher and I are really trying to reinforce good listening skills. So if I see a kid slumping or otherwise not focused when someone is speaking I feel compelled to fix it. At the same time, with some kids and some situations, a slight redirect can turn into a full-blown power struggle. I suspect this is where discretion comes into play, and also knowing how to redirect a behavior as much as when. Still, it's a work in progress.

Am I acknowledging the "whole child" or lowering my expectations?

Alfie Kohn recently had a blog post on a similar thread. He made a distinction between academic capabilities and intellectual capabilities. In other words, pushing children to meet state standards is not necessarily the same thing as having high expectations.

For me, I'm thinking about the social-emotional needs of my students who are dealing with the various traumas prevalent in high poverty communities. When I see a student who acts violently or refuses to do work, my first instinct (beyond the work I need to do on our relationship and my instruction) is to consider underlying causes from outside the school.

When I think about the barriers to what a student can do in the moment, I'm not trying to place limits on what a student can ultimately achieve. But it doesn't always feel that way. As a teacher, you sometimes feel like you have to fix


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