Pep Talk #…1
November 10, 2020
I know I didn’t really answer when you asked how my professional development session went last week. The truth is… it felt too raw, too hard, too close to the bone.
It was dicey. The anxiety and uncertainty of our times is always close to the surface. Sometimes I want to put on my super dark sunglasses and pretend that the glorious sunshine of our former work is shining through every obstacle. That my sheer bravado will keep us moving forward and accomplishing everything we set out to do. That isn’t the me that comes home and falls asleep in a chair unable to read or write anything after school nearly every day, but it is the me I want to shine out in the world.
But when those teachers looked me in the eye (over google meet) and wondered aloud how to tell parents that the students aren’t the same and the curriculum isn’t the same, I pushed back. I did. I really did. I know the students are at home half the time. I know that we have mask breaks and a mile and 1/2 of plexiglass and we are straight on ’til morning every day of the week. I also know that we’ve got the tools we need to keep us going and help them thrive. I believe that in my true heart… and I want you to as well. So I didn’t tell you what I told them. I didn’t want you to roll your eyes or tell me that’s not true or try to make me see that I’m unrealistic. Because darn it, our will can make it happen.
So I told those teachers to really think about what they know about the kids in front of them and what they know about fourth graders (read any grade) in their past. Could these students read the same as those other kids? Are there the same number of students in the weeds? Is their writing always messy in the beginning of the year? Weren’t they, the teachers, able to get through the first unit by our soft goal date without much difficulty? Weren’t the kids getting better at… (fill in the worry blank)?
So what are we worried about? It doesn’t feel the same. I agree. We don’t much leisure for read alouds and really good chats. What we do have is a small class size and time to confer with every single students every day. What we also have is a long expanse of time at home. I think I know the worries: the work doesn’t look the same or doesn’t come back at all, the parents are confused, and the teachers don’t have time and space to check in with the kids at home.
What did I tell them, those teachers with those valid worries? I told them that we can think about how to set up students for success. When we confer in the classroom, we drop knowledge, we drop mentors, we nudge, and we give students tools and reminders. We can do that for them at home. What do they really need to succeed? Not engaged parents so much as agency. The students need to feel that they are capable of doing the work without us. I think that is a little scary…for us.
And when we talk about the standards we will teach this year, the curriculum, the timing, we’ve got it. It is balanced. It does cover the standards. We are delivering.
So I told those teachers that we’ve got this. We are in this together with the students and each other. However long it takes, we have to have faith in ourselves and in them. I hope they got the message.