Saturday, October 2, 2010

The 5th year

I did it: yesterday, I gave quizzes in all my classes, and we meditated beforehand and while they worked I walked around with cookies.  They were polite and if it wasn't magic it was fun and it felt good to me.  I felt like I was paying tribute to my dear old teacher VanA, and that I was honoring the youth and hearts of my students.

I've been wondering if our most difficult students are easier than in previous years.  That's what it feels like to me and I'm curious if it's me, if it's them, if it's some combination.

Four years ago I had these two boys, GN and GM in one of my 9th grade classes.  I tried everything I could think of, but if those two were there, we couldn't accomplish anything.  That was my 2nd year teaching.  These were the two that came to mind when I was remembering the terrors of past years.  Behavioral nightmares, disrespectful and unwilling to do any work, distractions to the whole class, reminders of my despair*.

When I remembered them deliberately and imagined them coming into my room this year, I realized that I have just changed beyond recognition.  This job has given me patience beyond what I ever thought necessary.  It has clarified my vision, allowing me to see the tenderness and lovability of adolescents.  I have learned to observe, I have practiced not taking things personally, investing myself in the lengthy creative process of a year or four rather than the daily proof of my failure or success.

My new 9th graders are testing this version of Jesse the teacher.  That's hard, but I think it's a good sign. I can pass this test.

And people, I'm thinking all the time about the mathematics.  I've got all sorts of questions about it and ideas and inspiration about the wonders of this textbook and the mystery of good pedagogy.  But at the moment, if the relationships I am participating in and facilitating with and among my students feel safe and positive then I can work out the rest.  The relief is palpable.

Have a great weekend.  Enjoy fall.

*Just for the record, I ended up having great relationships with both these kids once I didn't teach them. They matured and GM in particular impressed me with his biting insights and sincere intelligence.


  1. Sounds interesting! What exactly did you do/teach for the meditating? I had a friend who would have his kids do something called square breathing before tests. He said it was like...4 count inhale, 2 count hold, 4 count exhale... and really liked it.

    And I know exactly what you mean about nightmare in class/bff afterwards. I've got 8th graders and they come visit me all the time from high school and I have to admit to being a bit confused when they do come visit. It's like...I thought you didn't like me?

  2. Makes total sense to me. They rebel against authority. You're no longer the authority, and now they can just appreciate what they liked about you.

    Jesse, did you get the Doug Lemov book when everyone was talking about it? I got it, read a bit and got turned off, and then found it in my piles yesterday, and read some more. I'm still turned off, but I'm also very concerned about how I handled my most difficult class. If you have that book, I'd like to discuss some of it with you. I think we'd frame our problems with the book similarly, and I think we'd also both love an alternative way to look at the issues of classroom management.

  3. Jason - I asked them all to just put their heads down, I turned off the lights, and lead them through a 2 minute meditation: pay attention to how you are, what it's like to be in your skin today, are you relaxed, hungry, sleepy, etc. just notice; breath 3 times and just notice this thing that you do all the time, that you'll be doing when the quiz is done, that you couldn't stop doing even if you tried; imagine yourself feeling confident and relaxed when you open your eyes, even enjoying the quiz while you take it; you might work on a problem that you're not sure of and you just try it and then move on, still feeling relaxed and confident. I teach meditation regularly so that helps me do it in a new environment, I have to say. What I said matters less, I think, than my own presence and sincerity. I closed my eyes too, but peeked to check on them, and if they had their heads up and their eyes opened I just looked directly at them and either gestured or verbally reminded them all to just close their eyes, put their heads down, like they were taking a short nap.

    Sue - Some teachers at my school actually did a little book club with the Doug Lemov last year, and it was really fun to talk about that stuff in a group. I didn't get too hung up on the details because the structure of the reading group meant that no one was assuming the book was right to begin with, but just using it as a starting point for conversation. I have been meaning to look at it some more.
    I love that people are out there trying to figure out what great teaching is, and just assume that anyone who thinks they can nail the mystery of it all down in one fell swoop is probably missing something. Having said that, I think Lemov's book will help some folks and that's good. Maybe we can interpret his title as just a way to sell books, rather than The Truth. If I get back into reading it I'll definitely reach out.

    Love these comments, guys. Thanks.