Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Differentiation for Us???

If I were going to describe being a new teacher to someone outside of education world, I would ask them to think about writing their first substantial paper (in college or high school or whatever). No matter how well you were prepped, no matter how talented of a writer you are, and no matter if you felt anxiety; chances are that you didn't know what the hell you were doing when you brought your pen to the paper or started clicking the keys on that keyboard. Your only option was to jump in. If you read your first composition now, you would probably be shocked at what you were willing to turn in.

So, being a new teacher is like writing your first composition. It's like writing your first composition with the requirement that the composition is 500 pages long. In the end, it would be kind of a miracle that you actually completed such a marathon of paper writing or teaching as it were, but ultimately the quality of your piece would likely be quite low.

To complete a paper like that would take guts and commitment and heart. If, in the middle of your paper-writing miracle of a marathon, someone were to tell you, "You're terrible at this and this paper is just awful. In fact, you should be sorry for any unsuspecting reader that might be subjected to the torture of this monstrosity," it would be devastating. After such discouragement, it would be difficult to grow into the teacher or the writer you might become.

I say this because now that I am not a new teacher my perspective has changed. I can see clearly the mistakes I made. Having learned a lot of lessons, I can see a lot of the lessons I needed to learn. I can also see just how monumental the task I was undertaking was. I can see how fragile and vulnerable that made me. I wish that the people in charge of me at that time would have looked for the potential to encourage instead of critiquing my performance.

We had a staff meeting today that reminded me of a staff meeting we had two years ago, during my second year of teaching. I had gotten in trouble earlier in the day because a little girl said jokingly to a little boy in my class, "I'll kill you," and I failed to report it. Well, the parent of the little boy called the police and filed charges against the little girl. I was already feeling terrible about this. The administration ended the staff meeting by making an example out of my situation about what not to do. It was what it was, but I remember the moment that it dawned on me where the example was going, and I remember everyone who hadn't heard trying to guess who this story was about.

Today at our staff meeting, the principal started relaying a story that moved him about a teacher differentiating to a special ed student in her class and the great impact this was having on the boy. At the moment that I realized the story was about me, I had a vivid memory of the negative story shared about me by the former principal in a staff meeting.

Today was a good moment, and maybe things like this do something to heal the confidence issues I still have from things I experienced as a new teacher. The thing is that both of the stories about me were objectively true. I really screwed up in the first instance, and I did a good job in the second one. I just don't think a new teacher always needs an objective evaluation. Maybe teachers just need a little differentiation too.


Magical Mystical Teacher said...

I have this uneasy feeling that most administrators wouldn't know how to differentiate teacher evaluations. Correct me if I'm wrong.

ms.understood said...

You're right. BUT I write this in the hopes that if I ever become an administrator, I won't forget what it is to be new at teaching. Someday I'll be a veteran and I think it is possible to forget how very hard it is in the beginning. I also think that a lot of administrators got into education before the stakes were so high. It is very very hard for them to really understand what it is like for the generation of teachers starting after nclb. There is a line of expectation that is immovable for teachers and students alike. Ironically, that line really leaves no room for people to learn.