A reflection from an exhausted but hopeful teacher
Megan Brady, OFLA Beginning Teacher Chair
Spanish Teacher, Northwest High School
The past few years have been difficult for all of us both in and outside the educational field. While things still seem to ebb and flow, there are a few lessons I’ve learned that I like to reflect on, and I would invite you to do the same.
First, I have been swamped and vulnerable. I am a type-A person who likes to keep everything together, fix all problems, do everything ahead of deadlines and do all things well. Perfectionism has been a battle for me all my life. The past few years have taught me to slow down, and to remember that I don’t have to be perfect to be great. Switching teaching from online to in-person and back to online has been tough. My lessons have been stretched and twisted every which way in an attempt to make them apply to all learners while addressing all styles and modes of learning. The lessons may not have been the best lessons I’ve ever created, but they got the job done. They allowed my students to progress, to show me what they know, to use the language, and that’s what matters most. Trying to find a balance between home and school has always been challenging, but these past few years with so many changes thrown my way have made it seem even more difficult. However, at the end of the day, I must force myself to stop working and take time for myself, for my family, and for my mental health. I know I am not alone in this, that we have all felt the constraints of the pandemic, the desire to do better, and the exhaustion which prevents us from doing better.
Enter my newfound love for transparency with my students. I have never really tried to keep anything a secret from my students, and they end up being very close to me, as I typically have them for a few years in a row, they end up almost like my own children. However, this year I opened up and shared more and more with them. For example, I told them that I need to see each of them growing on the proficiency scale because their current individual and class levels show great differences. Also, I let them know that I have difficulty in reaching all of them, and so sometimes we just need to take a little break and breathe.
Our Baile viernes (Dance Friday) has become a precious time for us, enjoying the movement, the latin beats, and the break from our typical routine and the routine of the whole school. Those little brain breaks are so important for all of us. Routines are great, they help us all, but sometimes a little extra movement and shaking things up goes a long way in rejuvenating all of us, both teachers and students.
I have told them my plans for breaking them into groups to address their needs and help push them forward. Although using groups creates crazy mayhem in my room (albeit organized chaos), they are doing great things and I know it has really helped our classroom community. I was worried that by breaking them into groups, and letting them know which level they are and which group it correlates to, that there would be some picking on each other for being at a lower level, etc, but none of that has come up. It has essentially motivated every student to give me their best, to prove to me that they are making progress, and to do what it takes to work on the parts and pieces of their proficiency they need to move up that scale. I have up to 6 different groups in my room on a given day, working on different leveled activities which best meet them where they are, and they are thriving.
I am honest with them when I am not sure how to proceed, and they give me valuable feedback. Often, their feedback helps me find a better path to lead them on. All the while, we are building trust amongst each other, and an amazing relationship that makes our whole class bonded. They show me grace, I show them grace, which is truly something we all need right now. Working as a team, we are doing great things. I mean this in my classroom, and I mean this for all of us as teachers. It’s ok to be vulnerable; it’s ok to be transparent and to ask for help. It’s a wonderful asset to us to have each other here to collaborate, bounce ideas, share everything-both good and bad. It’s ok to not be perfect; it’s ok to not have a perfect lesson plan every single day. It’s ok to be human, to have a balance of life and work, it doesn’t mean we aren’t great teachers when we take time for ourselves. We must be filling our own cup so we can fill our students’. We must be able to communicate with each other, lean on each other, and depend on each other. We’re all in this together, and hopefully, the more grace we show, the more grace we will receive. Hang in there, teachers, we’re doing great things!