Coming Home

Let me start with a confession:  I have not been a good teacher this year.  Or last year.  Or, really, since some time in late spring of 2020.  I know that I am supposed to cut myself some slack, be gentle, find grace, recognize that we are all in the same boat (or at least weathering the same storm), but, really?  I just have not been a good teacher.

Today, I asked my students to give me some feedback.  Being the good eighth graders that they are, their first question was, “Is this graded?” When I explained that not only was it not graded, but that it was going to be completely anonymous, there was a little buzz in the room.  I got nervous.  I gave them a bit more insight into my motivation, explaining to them that I often ask students at the end of the year to give me honest feedback, but that this was the first time I was doing it mid-way through a school year.  I told them that between the major capital project that is decimating our school and displacing our learning space on a regular basis, the last almost-two years in a global pandemic and our most recent move to optional masking, the time felt right to reassess and rethink how we —how I— do things.  

The responses began to come in.  Had this been a giant mistake?  I had to start to process it.  I was way off on so many things!  I had planned a read aloud (there were only two students who thought that was a good idea) and, apparently, the “dynamic” slide decks and interactive activities from (Insert the name of Big Corporate School Resource for Nonfiction Material) were really dreaded worksheets!  All they wanted was time to write, read and talk to one another.

I sat in front of my computer, reading through their comments.  They were gentle, but they were honest.  

A colleague and a friend sat down next to me.  She retired two years ago and now comes in to "selectively sub" for those of us she truly likes.  She has known me for almost twenty years and she knows what is in my heart.  She began to read my computer screen. I told her about my experiment, about how I had become a worksheet teacher.  She laughed and listened to me talk through the students’ responses and my reaction to them.  She quietly drank her coffee and heard me wondering out loud about how I could have gotten to this point.  She thumbed through her well-worn appointment book and watched me mine through the data, trying to find nuggets of myself, of the teacher I used to be.  There was not much there.  I was deflated and on the edge. I closed my computer and sat quietly across from my friend.  

Finally, she said, “Amy, they just want you.  They just want to be in your workshop, but they don’t even know what that is!”

Workshop, true workshop, has not been a part of my pandemic teaching life.  First, it was impossible to replicate through zoom.  Then, it was too disparate during the time of the Hybrid Disaster.  Finally, masking and social distancing kept us from conferring and holding one another's papers.  There are so many reasons why I have drifted so far away from an authentic writer’s workshop, but the truth is that it is hard.  It takes so much of me to make it really work.  I haven’t had a lot left to give, but now I feel like I don’t have a choice.  As my friend pointed out, just giving them the space to provide honest feedback gave the students renewed ownership of the classroom.  It was a first step and I feel like it is impossible to stop this momentum.  



8 thoughts on “Coming Home

  1. How brave of you to seek your students’ feedback and to share your reflections with so much vulnerability! I love your friend’s response: “Amy, they just want you. They just want to be in your workshop, but they don’t even know what that is!” I can’t wait to see what happens (and how great you feel) when you show them.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I can so relate to your statement, “I have not been a good teacher this year.” I feel this one to my core. I admire you so much for reaching out and seeking your student’s feedback, sharing it, and determining to make changes.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love your title. It speaks so much to who you are as a teacher. I’m glad you had the colleague/friend to talk through the feedback. You’re so brave to do that. I keep thinking about asking students for feedback, but am not sure I’m ready to hear it. I know that feeling of not being a good teacher this year (or last year). It’s so hard, and it takes so much energy that I don’t have. I’m sure you’ve heard the rationalization of how necessary it is to put on our own oxygen masks first–we can’t give energy we don’t have. It sounds from your posts the last two years that there’s a lot sucking the oxygen away, so it makes sense that you’re needing to hunker down to protect what you have. I hope that you’re able to find little ways to “visit home” that can fuel some joy and energy. I’ll look forward to reading about it!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I carefully read Stacey’s intro to today and that brought me to your piece (though I have read a lot of your work other years.) Thank you for this honest piece and your good insights (aided by your good friend.) The years bring change and not all good, but it sounds like you are headed for a meaningful reset. BTW, I almost laughed at how you capitalized Hybrid Disaster, like it was an historical epoch!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I think many of us could identify with that “not a good teacher this year” label. Kudos to you for asking students what they want and need. Sometimes we just need to listen to them. Here’s to continued momentum!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Your post made me feel seen. I feel this quiet guilt about not being and doing everything I believe to best in the classroom because 1) pandemic languishing and 2) the big corporate school resource we’re suddenly “required” to use… Hang in there, friend. Your students are lucky to have such a reflective practitioner!

    Liked by 1 person

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