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.

thinking like a teacher, not a student

In ECS 100, I remember my professor telling us that in the Faculty of Education, we are being prepared for the field by being taught how to think like teachers instead of students. Her example:

-a student-thinker will blame things on others. “That prof is such a hard marker!” “Their class is boring.” “I got the bad seminar leader.” and on and on and on…

whereas…
-a teacher-thinker will always reflect back upon their own actions. “They’re right, I didn’t go deep enough.” “Next time, I will know how to properly format my thesis.” “I didn’t realize I was doing it wrong, but now I know the correct way.” “What has this taught me?/What is the point of this class for me as an aspiring teacher?”

I have seen more student-thinkers among my Education peers than I would like to admit. And I can be one myself sometimes, too. But I am just a first year, and so are they. We still have a long way to go. And I ALWAYS cheer myself on by telling myself how a class (that may SEEM pointless and boring and useless to others) can link to Education or how it is shaping me or helping me on my journey towards being an educator. 

At their very roots, the student-thinker and the teacher-thinker are bathed in opposite lights of pessimism and optimism. Maybe this is why I am finding it easy to shift into teacher-thinking: because I am a natural optimist, and, by definition, education is an optimistic field. This takes me back to the topic of my previous post about epiphanies.

One of the girls at my group said: There is no way we can change society as a whole. 
And my response was: That’s not the point of a teacher. It may be the ultimate goal of education to better society on a grand scale, but a teacher can make a difference by changing or helping ONE child. And maybe that child will affect another person, and so on and so forth. That is what will make a change. 

(As I write this, I find myself hoping that my points are showing my passion, and not just coming off as cheesy. But I can’t even describe how strongly I feel for education and being part of the faculty. It is bursting from my chest and seeping out of every pore I have. My greatest goal is to become an amazing teacher and I don’t see any way that I, or anyone else in the program, can do that without open-mindedness and optimism). 

The point of this post is to self-proclaim an improvement within myself, to celebrate a success.

A few days ago, I found myself telling my mom how “my ECS prof is a hard marker,” which may very well be true. But that isn’t the point. I was placing MY mark as HER responsibility, when the truth is, I just didn’t go deep enough. There is always room for improvement! And now that I have got my feet wet with critical thinking, I am hoping that my next mark will see improvement due to my personal improvements.

In fact, I am not hoping, I am making it a goal! And that is what education is all about.