a hard pill to swallow

You know you are an Education student when the things you learn in your classes trickle into your everyday life and, no matter how hard you try, you cannot stop critically viewing the world in a different way than before. Talking about differentiated instruction and meeting all students’ needs, no matter how diverse, definitely played a big part in how I reacted today.

Since I am a firm believer in learning from my mistakes, I thought I would share this half-failure, half-success story with all of you. Honesty is modesty.

Today, I headed into my In-School Mentoring like I do every week. It was just another day, getting to spend an hour with an energetic, happy-go-lucky, easy going Grade 5 student. Contrary to my plans, though, things went a bit awry.

In true teacher fashion, I usually prepare a list of activities that will fill more than the allotted 60 minutes, just in case. Usually, my mentee likes to draw, so I decided that we could do pointillism pictures (and felt confident that that would take up a fair amount of time, as they are a fairly time-consuming medium).

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My mentee had no complaints about this, and we set to work on our creations. About five minutes in, however (when all I had managed to draw was a line of waves across my page), my mentee was finished an entire picture, as his personal spin on pointillism was not to cover the entire page with close-fitting dots (like in the picture above), but to make a more spread-out style. I began to feel slightly uneasy at this point, as I thought that these pictures would take at least half an hour or so. I asked my mentee to create another pointillism picture, and challenged him to try a more detailed drawing this time. This was clearly not interesting him, though, so I ended up suggesting a different, impromptu activity: 3D hand drawings.

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I hoped that this would be more interesting for my mentee, but it was to no avail. As soon as my mentee made a small error in his drawing, he completely closed himself off and wouldn’t say a word (which I had NEVER seen him do before – he is the most talkative, ambitious, fun loving kid). This is when I really started to panic. I knew that I would have to think on my feet and change my plans FAST to turn this session around. We ended up spending the rest of the hour (which was another gruelling 30 minutes of me grasping at straws to keep my mentee entertained and responsive) playing a table game with cereal box goals and crumpled up paper balls/pucks. Thankfully, he kicked my butt in this activity, which really helped to boost his spirits and re-energize him, and I think that we ended on a good note.

I can’t help but feeling that I let him down in the first half of our time together, though. I was perfectly content to do my pointillism and 3D hand drawings, and was secretly hoping my mentee would enjoy these activities too and spend enough time on them so that I could finish my drawings. I’m glad that I realized things were going off the rails when I did, and that I averted a crisis that would have been more difficult to fix had I waited a bit longer, but I can’t help feel disheartened, as I have never seen that response from him before.

This truly was a great learning experience for me, though. As teachers, it is our job to identify which methods are working for our students, which methods aren’t working, and ways that we can adapt things so that they DO work. It is scary for me (a meticulous planner and organizer) to have to improvise and utilize my ‘quick thinking’ skills, but it is also fulfilling to succeed at something so far out of my comfort zone.

I do also realize that, as a teacher, every day students may come into your classroom in a bad mood or mindset because of something that happened at home that morning or on the playground with their peers. There are a lot of outside factors we cannot control, so we simply have to do our best to make things as smooth and bearable as possible. At the end of the day, we can’t beat ourselves up over what went wrong; we have to realize what went right and plan a way for things to be improved for next time.

An optimist through and through, I am choosing to congratulate myself for handling the situation the best way I knew how and finding a way to lift my mentee’s spirits. While potential failure for a perfectionist like me is a hard pill to swallow, the side effect is a realization that education isn’t about being perfect, but working hard to become the best teacher possible and viewing each mistake as an opportunity to learn.