Funny how seemly random things come together. Take for instance this quote by my good friend Casey:
As usual, I replied with a smart comment about riding a bike instead of driving. After some good-natured banter about riding bike versus driving, I didn’t think anything of it until yesterday morning when I drove in to this:
This doesn’t look bad, does it? Well actually it is. We have a small parking lot, and space is cramped. I have been working here for four years, and I have always, always parked in the same spot (yes, for 4 years!). Recently we had a long-term substitute come into the school and now this newcomer has the audacity of just parking where she pleases?! What the heck?!
Needless to say, I was pretty mad and fuming all the way into school (mind you that this isn’t the first time the long-term sub has done this, it just came to a head yesterday). All I could think about was how I wouldn’t have the nerve to do that, and if I did goof up and noticed someone else’s vehicle in the spot I was parking in that I would find a different area to park. These rampant thoughts of the maliciousness of co-workers and the thoughtless self-absorbed culture of today festered in my mind all morning.
Then came Julie (OK, her name is not really Julie, but that anonymity thing), she had a question- of which I had the perfect answer!
This is how it went down (with comments I could see going through my student’s head as we were working on this problem- and were confirmed by me talking with her today):
Julie: Mr. A, I don’t understand how to do this problem.
Me: No problem, what problem is it? Do you know what it is asking you to do? (After I said that, I was like THANKS Captain Obvious! Of course she doesn’t know, that’s why she is asking for help!)
Julie: I don’t know, I don’t get it, that’s why I asked you for help.
Me: Did you read the problem? What did it say? Can you reread it for me? (Oh yea, I’m on top of my game today, why the HECK did she park in my spot!)
Julie reads the problem quietly aloud: See, this confuses me.
Me: What do you think it is trying to ask you?
Julie: I think it’s asking me this…
Julie: But I don’t know how to solve that. (Mr. A, you really have no clue how to help me)
At this point I start into some great student-led conversation where I ask her questions that are supposed to lead her to an answer… (I wonder if I should just go talk to her about parking in my spot- even though it doesn’t have my name on it) Julie does some work and we get to an answer.
Me: Nice job! Way to work through that. (Maybe I could just talk to her and she would understand that’s my spot)
Julie: Mr. A, I don’t understand what we just did.
Me: But you did all the work, I just asked you a few questions…
Julie: Yes, but I don’t understand how all that relates to the problem. (GOD MR. A, you are so stupid!)
Me: Oh, So this problem is… At this point I start some hardcore direct instruction on the problem type, how to solve it and how curriculum presents these type of problems to students.
Julie (with a glazed over look): Yea, I still have no clue.
Me (getting frustrated- WHY did she park in my spot and ruin my whole day today?): OK, how about this? I try to explain it in a slightly different way which connects to what we have done.
Julie: I’m just going to ask Jared
“Jared” is another student who does well in math and he promptly explains the problem to Julie in a way I haven’t considered or seen, but it makes total sense!
Julie: I get it! Thanks Jared (why couldn’t Mr. A just say that in the first place!)
Me: Awesome, thanks Jared! (Why didn’t I think of that? That made total sense, why wasn’t I taught that?)
During prep I thought about what happened with Julie, and wondered why it was such a train wreck for me- until I thought about what actually happened. I was so caught up in where I didn’t get to park that morning that I had closed off my thinking, I had boxed myself in like Casey’s car. As I think on it, there are too many times that I approach student questions that way. I know what is going on, where students are expected to get, and how to get there. I work through the problem with them and if they can’t understand after a couple of approaches then something is wrong with them! I always think I have an open mind about student learning and what is going on, but that isn’t always the case. I wonder how often this actually happens in the classroom- we get too used and comfortable with our routine and how thing are supposed to be that we forget about the awesome thing of learning- actually LEARNING!
Students frequently ask me to do work that is familiar and easy to them, they lack the confidence to push themselves and they want to fall back on what is comfortable. I always ask them if they think they are truly learning if they keep doing the same thing over and over, something they already know. The tell me that it’s not, and yet here I am getting caught up in the same thing.
Just like Casey, I came into the building 4 years ago with this grand idea of what I wanted for my classroom, a fresh start. Here I am four years later finding myself straddling the trench of comfort and conformity- not fulling falling in that trench but slowly slipping down the slope. I have noticed a slow change in what I do as I get feedback from peers, admin, and center staff. I should thank my co-worker for parking in “my spot” and forcing me to realize that in order to be the teacher these students deserve I need to continue to push myself as hard as I push my students, I need to find new parking spots- new ways to get to the same destination.