Elizabeth Bishop’s intriguing and delicate poem always comes to my mind at the end of the school year. I hope someday some of my own students will have poems like this in their hearts, poems that come to their aid and express what cannot otherwise really be expressed.
One Art – by Elizabeth Bishop
The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.
Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.
I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.
I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.
---Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
Friday was the last day of classes. I spent part of each class visiting the freshman and explaining their summer reading assignments to them, while the junior English teacher visited my kids. For the rest of the period I answered questions about the final exam, gave them some extra study guides and rubrics and things of that sort. It was pretty mundane, actually.
Honestly I like keeping things mundane at the end of the year. No standing on desks for me, thank you. I’m so emotionally wrung out by the end of the year that it wouldn’t take much to push me over the edge.
A few students, though, came and visited me during lunch or after school to say a special “thank you” – which was very moving to me. The student who asked me at the beginning of the year “Who is Christianity?” came and gave me a big hug before I could stop her. I wish I had taken greater care in thanking each of my own teachers at the end of the year when I was in school. I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster, / some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent. / I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.
On the other hand, I also had a student infuriate me by acting out quite rudely to another teacher. I kept him after school for a while writing a lengthy apology letter. The first one was not satisfactory, so he had to start over and write another. He was frustrated because he did not believe (or at least admit, at first) that he had done anything wrong. I was frustrated because he had acted so obtusely and rather maliciously, and did not seem to understand why I was making him write the letter. Lose something every day. Accept the fluster / of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
There were the usual hordes coming in at lunchtime in desperation, hoping (for some reason) that I would give them an extension on their final paper… the day it was due. As usual, I was cruel and heartless.
But I was saddened later to learn that one student in particular would not be returning to my school next year. She has tackled my class with tenacity, hard work, and lots of sarcasm. Unsure about her own beliefs about God and Catholicism, she has asked some of the best questions I’ve ever heard a high school student ask. I have loved talking with her outside of class about her papers and her questions. I wrote in her yearbook that she should never stop asking those questions. Those who seek, will find. I will miss her. But I shan’t have lied. It’s evident / the art of losing’s not too hard to master.
All in all, it was a very typical day except for the art of losing part. A junior, who was one of my kids last year, came in at the end of the day and remarked as he was leaving, “It must be kind of hard being a teacher. You have to say goodbye to so many people so often.”
I agreed but added rather casually that one has to get used to it. So many things seem filled with the intent /
to be lost that their loss is no disaster…
Awhile later I pulled into the parking lot outside of my apartment, turned off the ignition, and suddenly found myself crying – maybe because I felt a little of what real parents feel when they send their kids off to college.
What a gift I have! To get to know these crazy people and come to care about them so much.
I definitely need a break. But give me a few weeks and I’ll be impatient for next year, for another batch of people to love and eventually to say goodbye to.
Good thing the art of losing isn’t hard to master. …though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
Something I’ve been doing since my first year of teaching is creating an end of the year list of things that didn’t work, could be improved or I know I definitely want to revamp for next year.
If you wait too long after the year ends, you’re likely to forget all of the ideas swirling in your head of the procedures you thought were a good idea in August but ended up making your life miserable in December.
So here’s my unedited list so far. The only thing I changed for you was to add links to relevant previous posts in case you have no idea what I’m talking about and would like to find out.
To be honest, I’m a little ashamed that I had to put some of these items on the list. You’d think that by the end of my fourth year of teaching, I’d have it a little more together. Alas.
There is a new English teacher at my school who is working with the freshman. I love her! She has done so well – especially coming in halfway through the year and working hard to establish great procedures. But like all new teachers, she is overwhelmed.
I have loved talking with her and remembering my own first year teaching. I am doing my best to help her not succumb to the same worries and temptations that I did – or, at the very least, to be aware of them.
One we were discussing recently is new teacher temptation #1:
The idea that unless you are talking the whole class period and exhausting yourself, you are being a lazy teacher and your kids aren’t learning.
Or, it can also manifest itself this way:
The idea that if your kids are working silently for long periods of time and you are not talking to the whole class, you are being a bad teacher.
Both of these ideas are completely false, but they are chronic worries for the new teacher and sometimes even for the more experienced teacher.
These tempting but utterly misleading ideas arise for many reasons. One is that some teachers, who merely pass out worksheets all day and sit behind their desks while the kids do them (or don’t do them), are being bad teachers. If that practice is your modus operandi, there is something seriously wrong. I saw this practice occurring a lot at my old school and I wanted to be as different from that as possible — and so I thought that it was my job to be the entertaining center-of-attention in my classroom.
If you google “teacher cartoon” on google images, you’d see how most of the pictures look like this, because this is what society thinks teaching should look like. Teacher talking, chalkboard behind him or her, and coffee.
But that’s not always true.
New teachers: the center of attention in your classroom should not be you. It should be student learning.
Whatever methods get you there are good methods.
Sometimes that means you, as a teacher, need to do most of the talking during a certain lesson. Other times that means the kids need to do most of the talking. Other times that means nobody needs to do ANY talking for a certain period of time.
The point is, you want to find the most helpful and efficient way to facilitate learning in your kids.
This is a nice picture, but I bet you very little actual learning is going on here:
I mean, how could it be? The blonde boy will have an aching neck in a moment, the girl with the pig tails can barely see the text, and the boy with his mouth open in astonishment is pointing at a conspicuously huge and picture-less volume that is probably not as thrilling as the picture wants you to believe. Only the girl on the right seems to be reading.
I mean, these pictures look a lot more realistic to me, albeit less glamorous:
My friend, the new freshman teacher, was wondering if it would be okay for her to spend a few days having the kids read a challenging text individually in class (since they probably wouldn’t read it outside of class) and answer questions about it. I gave her some further ideas about how to differentiate.
“Are you sure that’s okay?” she said. “I mean, it’s going to be really quiet in my room for the next couple of days. It’s okay to have them read during class? By themselves?”
I affirmed that it was, indeed okay – in fact, wonderful – because it was the simplest way for her to help her kids achieve the learning goal.
I couldn’t help but think of Harry Wong saying “Get to work! Get to work! Get to work!” in his video on classroom management. But he is right. The point is not to make yourself work (although, inevitably, that will happen). The point is to make the kids work:
Here’s an example of a choice I made today that I would have had a very hard time making my first year:
We’re starting a new unit (our last unit!) on Dante’s Inferno. Here is my objective:
SWBAT explain historical context and background information for Dante.
My first year of teaching (and my second… and my third…) I would have felt it was my responsibility to give the kids information like this. After all, some of them haven’t even heard of Dante, and none of them know more than one or two facts about him. So I probably would have made a guided notes sheet and a power point presentation where I used “direct instruction” (translation: teacher talking, students listening and taking notes) to get the important facts about Dante into the kids’ heads. After all, “explain” is a very low-level Bloom’s verb and so taking on the more active role is not a bad idea.
But this year I realized that this method was not the most effective way for my kids to learn about Dante’s life and times.
So instead, this year, I created a packet with critical questions and suggestions for helpful websites. Then I took them to the library and they researched Dante’s life themselves and answered the questions, citing the sources. All I did was walk around, observe, keep them on track, and help them when necessary.
Tomorrow I will briefly go over the answers with them just to make sure they have their facts straight.
My classroom was not only quiet today, it was empty.
And the library was pretty quiet too.
But the point is, it was much more powerful for the kids to find the information for themselves rather than merely receiving it from me. They will be more likely to remember it, too.
I still felt a little guilty. That New Teacher Temptation made me want to explain myself to our librarian, to assure her that I wasn’t just taking the day off.
But I resisted.
New teachers – trust yourselves. Pick the method that will help your kids learn — not the one that makes you look good.