If you are like me, you are always adding things to your teaching to improve it. I feel that doing more, in whatever form that takes, makes me a better teacher. And in many cases, it does. But as I’m entering my fifth year of teaching I’m starting to realize that with only a finite amount of time in my classroom and in my life, I need to start managing teacher stress. Letting go of things that don’t work can be just as beneficial as adding things to teaching. So, here are five things I’m giving up this school year.
1. Looking for the “perfect teaching thing”
As I create or look for curriculum or activities, I find myself looking for the perfect thing. Somewhere there must be the perfect way to teach geography, World War 1, pantomime, Othello, etc. And once I find that best way, my classroom will be perfect: the kids will do their homework, they won’t ask to go to the bathroom when I’m mid-sentence, I won’t be tired, everything will be brilliant. As I look at a resource and it doesn’t seem perfect, I put it aside to look for the next one.
But the perfect resource doesn’t exist. And I need to stop looking for it. I’m missing good resources in my search for the perfect one. I’m missing the specific needs of each class looking for a one-size-fits-all resource. I want to let go the idea that something perfect exists and focus on what I think will work for my current group of students.
2. Choosing progress over the learning process
I spent most of this last school feeling “behind” in my classes. With a schedule change it felt like I didn’t have enough time to cover everything. So I rushed and measured success by how much material I covered in class. But I started to wonder what my students were getting out of class. Yes, I covered all sorts of things, but did they remember it? Did they gain anything useful from it? Were they more creative, more nuanced thinkers, better people because of all the stuff I covered? Probably not.
So, I slowed down and focused on what I wanted my students to get from the material we were covering, not just on the material itself. As a history teacher, were they starting to understand different people around the world, were they learning to form educated opinions on current events, were they becoming better readers and writers? My focus began to shift to quality of learning, not quantity of material covered. I hope to continue that mind set this year: to focus on the substance of learning and not on how much we covered.
3. Slideshow assignments
As a high school teacher, I find myself assigning a lot of slideshow presentation assignments. They are fairly easy to grade and mean a day or two of not having to lesson plan when students present. But I hate them. So much. They are rarely engaging, hardly creative and tend to just be copied from Wikipedia. The students don’t learn when they do these kind of presentation assignments and we are all bored stiff watching them. So I’m scrapping them completely. (If someone has a way to make these assignments a good learning tool, please comment!)
I’m switching what were presentation assignments to other things. Students will have to write children’s books, diary entries or music, build models, perform a musical or theatrical piece, draw maps or comic strips, anything where they must apply knowledge instead of just copying and pasting it. Slideshow assignments are (hopefully) a thing of the past in my classroom.
4. Skipping lunch
There are always piles of students in my room at lunch. Sometimes for drama club meetings, sometimes for help, but mostly just to hang out. I love it most of the time: it gives me a chance to talk to my students and get to know them. It lets them get to know me. It gives many of them a safe place to be and a way to make friends. Other staff members know my students are in there and will send kids with nowhere to go my way. Then we adopt them into the drama program and put them to work. It’s a win-win.
But with so much going on in my room, I often forget to each lunch. And since I often don’t eat breakfast (so not a morning person) and don’t get home ‘til 5 or 6 because of rehearsal, that means I eat once a day. Not great. So, I really want to make sure I eat lunch this year.
5. Forgetting to say thank you
Thank you notes have been a part of my life since I was born. My mother made sure we sent thank you cards for every birthday and Christmas gift. After my wedding, she constantly reminded me to send thank you notes. (Yes mom, they all got sent.) Last school year, the choir teacher and I were on a roll teaching our students to say thank you. We work hard to give them opportunities and often did not feel appreciated. So, I started to tell choir kids that they needed to say thank you to her and they ran with it. About the same time, she started doing the same with the drama kids. We had them sign thank you cards for guest speakers, etc. They are grateful but often just don’t think to express it.
I often find myself doing the same thing. There are so many wonderful co-workers and people in the school and community who help my program. I feel so much gratitude for them. But how often do I express that? I want to make sure that I am sharing the gratitude I feel for the people at my school who make my job easier, like our finance person who answers so many questions for me, the janitors who set up for my shows, my co-workers who let me vent and the community members who loan me costume pieces. I want them to know I appreciate them, because I do.
These are the things I want to give up this coming school year. I don’t know how successful I will be but a theatre teacher I worked with told us that saying things that you want to do out loud made them more likely to happen. So maybe throwing these out onto the internet will help me stay more committed!