What if you keep trying to master something (management, goals, etc) but you consistently fall short every time? I’m losing faith I can master the teaching craft to assist the students in meeting standards. If I can’t meet mine, how can they meet theirs?
Dear Losing Faith,
I saw this question and had to write. I want to reach right through my computer screen and hug that sense of defeat right out of you. In the absence of a real embrace, here’s my virtual hug of camaraderie and knowing. All too well, I know the heavy silence of an end-of-day empty classroom when it’s finally just you and your uncertain self. Those are the late afternoons I find myself sitting alone in a student desk instead of my own, hoping some insight will make its way to me if I stay close enough to them. If I’m lucky, I’ll just stay in the uncomfortable quiet long enough to find some perspective. But more than likely, I get frantic. Then determined. I resolve to find the magic that will turn this thing around.
I go to my bookshelf for inspiration. I comb through the internet for a strategy. I cover my whiteboard with my thinking. I rearrange calendars and plans. I call a colleague. I determine to throw everything out and “start fresh” tomorrow.
I reach and I grab and I create a frenzy of activity that rarely moves me out of the cycle I’m already in. I understand what I’m doing; I hate that feeling of falling short and I want to get it out of me. As fast as possible. It sounds like that’s where you’re at too. When I feel like I’m “losing faith” like you, here’s what I have to ask myself.
Am I being patient enough? Learning is slow and messy and takes the time it needs, not the time we want. You don’t need to lower your expectations for yourself or your students, but you can lengthen them. Will slowing down help? Will more practice and less assessment alleviate pressure? This is especially true when it comes to mastering a standard. Standards represent complex skills that aren’t easily put into a single lesson or a three-week unit. They have to be practiced in ever-changing scenarios and aren’t as much “acquired” as they are slowly constructed. Give yourself the chance to pause and see if your expectations are fair to yourself and to your learners.
Am I doing too much? Even though it’s with the best of intentions, often I’m doing too much. I create too many steps or I give them too much information or I make the strategy so complicated we never get to the learning. This is when we ask our students for help. They’ll tell us what isn’t working and they probably have some really good ideas about what might. Think of it like “going acoustic.” Strip down the unessential, turn off the amp, and rely on your purest voice.
Are we laughing enough? If we’re not laughing, we’re not connecting: too each other, to our learning. Laughter reminds us we’ve left enough room in our lessons for young people to be present as themselves. It reminds us they aren’t acting robotic or going through motions. It’s a sign they’re engaged.
Am I up in my own head? Sometimes we have a rough patch of lessons and immediately think we’ve lost it, as though our teacher confidence is a heavy teabag. You’re better than you think, stronger than you know, doing more right than you believe. Go reclaim your confidence by using one of your go-to instructional moves. It’s crucial to keep learning and growing and trying new ways of reaching our students. It’s just as important to know the difference between a fad or a ploy and undeniably good practice.
Am I falling short or am I stretched too thin? It’s an important distinction. I know you feel like you’re falling short, but maybe it’s because you have convinced yourself there’s a “right way” or a “wrong way” to employ a method. Teaching isn’t about replicating someone else’s steps; it’s about paying attention to the people in front of you and trusting yourself to be strategic enough to meet them where they are. The magic isn’t in a goal or standard, it’s in the work you and your students do together.
As you sit with this feeling, please know it’s directly proportional to how much you care. In order to open ourselves to a passionate pursuit of this work, we also open ourselves to toughest confrontations. I know if you’re willing to extend yourself a little forgiveness it will go a long way. Please don’t give into the voice of self-doubt. If you give into anything, give into the struggle. It’s where you and your learners will grow the most.