My first year of teaching I don’t think I ever thought about the end of the year until the end came. Taught every day as if this was the only day that mattered. Taught every day with short-term goals in mind but was too overwhelmed to think about the whole year. To think about how my 4th graders would have changed by the time they were ready for 5th. I think this is common, it is part of the first year survival strategy. One day at a time, sometimes it seems like one lesson at a time. We keep the whole child in mind but really just teach the skills that we set out to cover and hope we do a well enough job.
Now, nine years in and counting, with the feedback given to me by my students, I keep an eye on the end. Not to count it down, in fact the end always comes to soon, but instead to remember the big picture, the end destination; better children, bigger minds, more knowledge, more self awareness.
So while I teach to ensure equal success with our content, I also teach with a larger goal in mind, always propelling us forward; how to become better human beings. How to walk away from 7th grade English and feel like they know themselves better. How to adapt any learning environment to learn better. How to have courageous conversations. How to figure to figure out who they are and where they want to go.
So we weave in the small, but often missed, questions throughout our curriculum, throughout our explorations. I ask my students what is their writing process, they often have little clue, and we revisit the question as the year progresses, so that they know that this matters to who they are.
I ask them how they adapt the environment to fit their needs. Where do they sit to learn? How do they learn best? How does who they sit by affect the way they feel about our class?
I ask after every major unit what they grew on and what is next, how will they get there? They always assess themselves on anything bigger before I do, after all, they need to have a part in what they have accomplished. I ask for feedback on the things we do to make sure they matter to the kids.
I offer choice, of course, but not just in product, but in engagement, in assessment, in process, because sometimes product choice is not an option. I constantly ask them to self assess, even those who cannot be bothered, so that they know that how they feel they did matters to me and to them. We stop and discuss when we need to and adjust course when we must.
I ask them who they are, how they feel, and how I can be a better teacher for them, for the class. Do they feel respected, do they feel this matters, do they want to come to class? And I listen, and I do something based upon what they tell me.
We were never meant to just cover curriculum, we were never meant to just prepare kids for the test, for the next year, for college and career readiness. We were meant to be the handlers of the future. To guide our children to stay curious. To protect the innate love of learning they come to us with. We were meant to help create a better populace that can accept who they are and know that within them there are things that matter, things that still need work.
So don’t just cover the curriculum, don’t just go through day to day. Embrace the amazing opportunity that comes with being in education; the chance to shape the future with the conversations we have now. We are not just teachers of our subject areas, we are teachers in every wonderfully convoluted term of the word. So ask questions beyond the subject, give time to reflect, to slow down, and to find a pathway to being better. Keep an eye on the end not because you want the year to be over, but because in the end, you know that what you did together mattered. That those kids you were lucky enough to teach grew in more areas than one. That is the promise we can make every day. That is a promise we can keep.
I am currently working on a new literacy book. The book, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge. I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum. So until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students. Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.