April 14, 2008

The Important Thing


My husband’s very apt nickname for me is Rou-Tina. I adore the structure of daily schedules. I revel in completing mundane tasks in the same orderly manner each time I do them…because I’ve taken time to figure out the most logical plan of action and see no reason to alter what makes sense. I have a place for everything and, yes – by the end of the day at least – I expect everything to be in place. So, on a (slightly?) less neurotic level, I guess I’m a female incarnation of the title character for the TV series Monk!

But, interestingly, Rou-Tina willingly slides to the backseat when I teach. Sure, I plan for my teaching. When I worked with immigrant kids in public schools, I mapped out the most sensible way to meet the standards and benchmarks semester by semester – and then broke that into manageable weekly chunks, faithfully recorded on daily lesson plans. When I taught a co-op class for homeschooled teens, I created a detailed syllabus. And even as I home-educate my two elementary-aged daughters, I plan in similar ways for every content area we cover.

I’m thankful, though, for what usually happens when I’m face-to-face with my students. Rou-Tina is there in the back, quietly whispering clarifications to the driver; she is, after all, a key part of the act of teaching. But the driver at that point ceases to be a caricature with a nickname. Instead, what seems to flow from me – without me planning for it or even thinking about it – are relational-type descriptors: warmth, encouragement, empathy, care.

So Friday’s plans moved to the following Monday or Tuesday because the hard-working small groups needed more time to finish. I sat for an hour after school with Roberto one day, until he mustered the courage to admit he misbehaved because he couldn’t read. I chauffeured Sivilay to the district music festival, rented violin tucked under his arm, because no one in his family could drive. I listen to – and hear – the “short” stories Rachel and Abbie concoct to inject some fun into defining simple spelling words.

If you have the heart of a teacher, the same is true of you.

But at this time of year, with just weeks remaining on most school calendars, it’s all too easy to hand the keys to Rou-Tina. Because you wake up at three in the morning in a cold sweat, thinking, “We have so much yet to cover!” And so you’re tempted to tighten the reigns, buckle down…basically use every clichĂ© in the book to quickly shovel in more information and fill every gap.

To be sure, check your plan. Be diligent. Make sure your Rou-Tina has a voice. But remember what Dr. Kathy says: We don’t teach English or math or music. We teach children. So keep your focus on making daily progress with and for the children.


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