I think it has happened. I am a grumpy teacher. Many of my phrases start with “Back in my day,” or “Kids these days.” To be honest, some days I feel drained after teaching instead of energized. I get grumpy grading papers. I am becoming that teacher.
How did I get here? The answer is not easy to write, but I think it reveals some important aspects of education.
I teach all my classes over a DL (distance learning) system. I juggle different start and end times for periods, 14 different school calendars, and one period with six different schools on the screen. Not to mention technological issues or other factors that affect the environment of the class: lighting, all students on screen, and even just trying to answer a question from their computer screen.
I have, at best, shallow relationships with my students. I’m on line with them three days a week for 45 minutes. I don’t get to have those conversations in the hall or at lunch. They cannot ask for help in the morning. I do not get to see the light bulb moments. Learning is about moving to higher levels of understanding and articulation of that understanding. It is scary to make that jump sometimes, but a teacher is that foundation that gives students the courage to make it. I don’t seem to be building that foundation, and that is hard to live with because that is what a teacher does.
Connected to the environment is my approach to grades. Lessons are just as much a part of the culture of a classroom as the desks and paint on the wall. And with lessons comes grades. I have tried to create a more project-based environment for both of my classes. To create activities that builds the students’ skills without worrying about the grade.
Here again I get tired of battling all the different grading issues, from the student cliché. “How long is it suppose to be?” to justifying every assignment that is not “graded” to schools. In some ways I have made it even harder on myself because I’ve tried to run my DL classes as if it was a normal classroom. So, I have kids go outside to write and take pictures. Students hand in homework by taping it to the walls in their classroom. But it is not so simple to correlate these activities with six other schools for that period. Or to make sure all students post their work on the wall.
Grades are important, but I feel that improving their skills is more important. Life doesn’t give us a midterm report. We don’t get a grade for how well I did as a parent, or as a friend. Yes, we do get evaluated for those things, but it is reveled in our sense of pride, the smiles and laughter at the dinner table. Our skills help us create a life filled with love and strength to handle rough times. I know a single classroom cannot measure up to life, but it can be a place to build the work ethic for students to strengthen the skills that will be needed in life. I would rather see them work hard on an essay then filled a page requirement, but to create that freedom takes a relationship that is built throughout a school experience. And I’m just some guy on a screen…
So I get tired, I get grumpy, I feel like a failure. But this feeling highlights what matters most in education and in life: the relationships we construct with students to help them reach their highest expression of talents and skills. I might still be grumpy, but I know that all I can do is keeping trying. Because I won’t get a grade for this moment in life, but will know how I’m doing by the smiles and pride my students express in their own life.