Flexibility is the key to being a good teacher. You have to embrace that word. Everyday, every hour, every moment… be ready. Because whatever you have planned, whatever you thought was going to work, whatever you thought was going to be the next step… well, that will change. You will be asked to change it up. And you have to be ready. You have to embrace the change.
Sometimes the request for change comes from an outside source. The testing coordinator informs you that the schedule is being moved up. The dance teacher is coming in. One of the four classes in your PE rotation will be at Art to Grow On. No problem you say. I can work with that. That is me. Miss Flexibility!
Sometimes you work with someone who is the opposite of flexible. This person makes no adjustment, ever. Demands that her needs be met, and everyone else figures it out. Doesn’t see the big picture, doesn’t worry about what her rigidity does to the team. Just stays stuck. And everyone else cleans it up, makes it work, manuevers around the roadblock. And lest you think this post is really an excuse to rant about a difficult colleague… I will move on. Call me flexible!
I have found the most inspiring and challenging time to be flexible is when you require it of yourself. Not at first. At first, you say, “No, that can’t be… I must have heard that wrong. I don’t think I need to change that…” But then you listen a bit more closely, and you realize. I DO have to change. I do have to examine this and figure out how to bend and adjust. My students are asking for something else, something I hadn’t planned. I need to be open to this. Even if it is a surprise, even if my feelings are hurt, even if it calls into question the way I have always done this.
This happens to me more often than I would like to admit. And I respond to it with flexibility less often than I would like to claim. Early this week, I said, “It is time for writing!” We are two weeks into our unit on short realistic fiction. Expecting the usual cheers, I got a cacophony of sighs, grunts, moans and a few cheers. “WHAT?” I sort of yelled. I was dumbfounded. They looked sheepish. “No, it’s okay. I really want to know, don’t be afraid. You can be honest. My reaction of surprise was just because you usually cheer… what has changed?”
Silence. No eye contact. Then one by one, a few brave souls ventured out.
“This unit is so hard. It is taking a long time.”
“It seems like it won’t ever end.”
“I get afraid to write sentences because I want to make them just right, and it is so easy to make mistakes.”
“It is hard to figure out what my character is going to do.”
“This is really hard. It takes a long time to write out all the scenes.”
“I like it when we do the charts and the hunts.” (We do a lot of inquiry about punctuation marks and sentences- inspired by Jeff Anderson.) “I like that part of writers workshop, but the writing part is not my favorite.”
Yep… what I prided myself on most: an engaging, student-centered, productive writers workshop was not quite all that. Sh*%t. But here is the good news. Out of the fire of my crash and burn (I really did almost start crying), rose the phoenix of my growth as a teacher. My workshop will be better, because it will take into account the needs of my students– not just the outlines and mini-lessons of the writing guides that I love and depend upon so much. It will allow more time for play. I knew that, vowed to do that listening to Ralph Fletcher for most of the summer for God’s sake…but old habits die hard. I will check in with my students more often, not just about “how it’s goin'” but also, how workshop is going. I will let them help guide our path. Because even with the standards in place– demanding their difficult, often age-inappropriate skills and rigorous organization– it is all for naught if students don’t LOVE to write at least most of the time. If they see a way to write, explore, and have fun, then they will learn how to write. And if that matches up with the computerized grader that will grade their Smarter Balanced essays, well, awesome! And if it doesn’t, well, I am good with that too. Because they will be writers. Hallelujah!
I can handle any fall-out. That’s me– flexible.