You don’t truly understand a concept until you try teaching it to someone else. While reading Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder, I noticed how much the main character, Jinny, struggles to teach her younger “Care”, Ess, about life. She struggles with taking everything she knows and figuring out how to actually teach it. She quickly realizes that just because you know how to do something, doesn’t mean you know how to teach it. Other children on the island offer to help, but she refuses. As the oldest, she thinks she’s the only one that can teach Ess everything she needs to know.
This got me thinking about how learning is less overwhelming when it’s viewed as a collaborative effort. As an ELA teacher, I forget that my class is not the only one students attend each day. I forget that there are 5 or so other hours of learning taking place each day. I forget that I’m not the only one responsible for their learning.
Teaching is the collaborative effort of students, teachers, administrators and parents. No single person is responsible for all of a student’s learning. Sure, we all have our focus areas but we’re in this together.
As I sit and plan for the upcoming school year, I need to remember that I’m not the only one helping my students grow. I’m not the only one they read with, or write with. I’m not the only one they speak to or listen to. I can’t possibly teach them everything there is to know about reading, writing, speaking and listening in 180 days. No teacher can. There’s far too much to cover. I need to focus on certain areas that are most important and teach them well, rather than overwhelm both myself and my students. This isn’t anything new. Most educators know this, but sadly, I need to keep reminding myself.
I also have this idea in the back of my mind that every student must master everything we attempt. Part of it comes from the demand grades place on students to pass everything. Mistakes and failures are still viewed negatively but that’s a topic for a future blog post.
While having high expectations for my students is important, I need to be realistic. If a student doesn’t completely grasp an understanding of comma usage during their time with me, I have to trust that they will learn it from someone else. I’m not saying I give up on a student when they don’t understand a concept, but I strive for progress, not perfection. I have to accept that students won’t leave my room with everything there is to know.
Showing students how to enjoy reading and writing is my top priority. It’s more important than any standard or topic. I know I won’t be able to teach every grammar convention or literary device, but I can focus on creating a love for reading and writing. I can show students how to find books worth reading and that reading isn’t something we just do for school. I can show them how keeping a writer’s notebook helps them better observe themselves and the world around them. I can show them how writing can give them a voice when they want to be heard.
Showing students the power of reading and writing isn’t something they will easily forget. It’s something they will carry with them. It’s something they will continue to learn from. It’s something that will help them grow as individuals in this crazy world.
At the end of this past school year, one student told me she no longer hates reading, she just dislikes it. Do I wish she loved reading? Yes, but I’m happy with her progress. She gained some enjoyment from reading in my class. Hate is a strong word. If students leave my room hating reading and writing, I’ve failed.
While I finish my summer planning, I’m focusing on what matters most, rather than try to teach everything there is to know about ELA. I’m letting go of the overwhelming feeling that I won’t be able to cover everything. I’m reminding myself that teaching is a collaborative effort of many people and not just me and the student.