Saturday, 15 May 2010

Chain and balls

It's been ages (again) since I posted here. From my analytics, no one visits my site unless they're looking for a craft something-or-other, so I'm going to care a little less about the high-brow-ness of my thoughts, but I am going to use this for what it was intended - putting my thoughts away so I can move on. Here goes.

At work we've been doing emotional intelligence analysis for some of the staff. I've found that although I'm great at being aware of my feelings, and the feelings of others, I'm not too great at managing my own emotions. Turns out EI includes management of your and others' feelings. Hmph.
So, here's what I've noticed.

Yesterday we competed against another school for sport and their supervising teacher was a grad, straight out of uni, loud, enthusiastic, quick with the mouth; in short, he had vitality. And that's when I realised my own vitality is missing.

In my first year out of uni I expected to suck at teaching; I expected mistakes, stuff-ups, faux pas, rushed preparations, last-minute efforts, messy lessons and grumpy parents. I was loopy as all get out, thrilled to have my own group. I clearly recall looking at the class in my first week and seeing "What the hell?" faces amongst them, just because I was so off-the-graph-happy. It was awesome. I know our discussions went off on tangents a lot, and there was a lot of time lost to 'chats', but on the whole, it was a good year. In fact, my best so far. We were happy, enthusiastic, generous, with a commitment to being proud of our work, looking after our people and being a community.

Last year, this happened in a similar way, but a student from my first group passed away over the holidays and a grey wash was laid over my first term. It rattled me and I started talking less and started watching when I worried and when I didn't. A few people noticed. I got better over the year, but my non-work time at home became a noted effort in creating a work/life balance, so much so that it actually wasn't working - I was thinking about work while I wasn't doing it. Fail. I started to list my oversights and failures and ignoring my successes.

This year I have a really different group. In these last few weeks I've noticed my headspace is crowded with the feeling of failure and commotion. About a third of the class talk when they shouldn't, and I have one student with ADD (and possibly ODD and ASD) who influences the behaviour of others in that my tolerance for his problems sometimes leads them to think that they can get away with such behaviour too. His constant interruptions, and the ripple effect they have with other talkative types, means I spend a lot of time in behaviour management mode. These kids are quite immature compared to the rest of the class. They display behaviours like unaccountability, arrogance, evasion, lying, back-chat, sooking and generally acting like they're a year younger than they should be. (Or, they have an over-blown sense of entitlement - I way-too-casually call it "Little Prince syndrome". Eeer, yes, they're all boys.) (For the record, I have a discipline system that is working: after one warning, most of them pull their heads in, but they all get one warning every block, which is concerning. And sometimes 7 people talk at once, which is hard to respond to when one of them has a legitimate contribution.)

I notice too, that frustration happens when people are surprised - this thing wasn't expected, it interrupted them, and they're annoyed. Any one of these kids will interrupt a short instructional talk (I keep them quick on purpose) with a random, completely unrelated question or thought and its really hard to not immediately think What the crap, child? What is your head doing? Half the time, its an attention seeking comment: "Look how cute I am! I'm asking a dopey question and its cute and funny!" Why do I expect it isn't going to happen? Because, at this age, it shouldn't. I've been teaching long enough to know that they should be able to manage their mouths by 10-11 years old, unless they have an undiagnosed impulse management disorder.

It's also very hard to drop grumpiness, and hard to not feel it when you know they know what the expectations are*. With 4-7 kids who need to hear the disappointment in your voice, or believe your threats, the others don't deserve the same grump, and this has been tricky to manage and taxing. I think this has happened because the feelings (the care and concern) I have for the misbehaviour is what I think about when I manage the behaviour, and those things don't have to happen at the same time. I don't want to go too much into my classroom management strategies, or be specific with anecdotes of behaviours, but this is my end point at the moment: I have reigned in my enthusiasm and happiness because this portion of the class gets too excited too quickly, and its getting me down. I didn't spot that this would be a consequence of such a group and didn't prepare to redirect my enthusiasm for teaching into other opportunities.

So this is what I'm going to try for: I'm going to be happy and optimistic, like I used to be, and let the misbehaviour be managed with the system I have in place, but not think or feel anything about it when its happening. Those who are good can enjoy the warmth of my good mood, those who aren't can feel the wrath at recess or lunch.

Why haven't I done this before? Because I'm still inexperienced, or I am at least with this sort of problem. I also don't wear much of a mask in the classroom so my emotions are bare. (In fact, the students get my best - I often don't chat much in the staffroom because I'm beat from all the talking during student conferences and teaching.) A few of my students, including my ADD student, are also random with their empathy and work ethic, so my hope and emotional investment in them (particularly the way I negotiate my ADD kid's friendships and work habits) is often crapped on or ignored, which feels a little abusive but I don't yet know how much they can help it. (He's also a very young character, so may not get how he affects other people around him. That's not to say that I look to him to validate what I do - I'm really looking for signs of progress and self-efficacy and they are small and rare.)

What's amazing is that this is all classroom management - it's the weather of our room. If it isn't right then people don't learn at their best. They're distracted, or threatened, or depressed, or negative and they can think with a clear head about what's in front of them. I'm not going to get their best if I don't figure this out. And it comes before effective assessment, for both planning and learning, or lesson planning, or task planning, because it affects things like student groupings, seating, being able to working independently and student autonomy.

So, I'm going to do my best to figure myself out first, so I can think straight, and protect my well being. I'm going to try to put aside the things I can't change: the cyclical testing and how it can reveal nothing or maybe something; the perpetual interruptions to our weekly programs and losing any sense of constancy; the units or lessons I just cannot fit into the time I have; the kids who may not care; the parents who may not care; the homework that I prepare so carefully but it lost/forgotten/wrecked; the rudeness, spite, defiance or immaturity I experience each day**. I'm going to try to get back to being happy to be at school;
  • being grateful that I do have sweet, funny, committed, generous people in my room;
  • remembering why I was told by people how glad they were that I was going to be a teacher;
  • get back on top of my pragmatism and confidence;
  • stop trying to be so freaking perfect.
  • Dumber people than me have taught - heck, they taught me! - and students turn out OK;
  • My students do learn & improve;
  • My students are happy;
  • I am not the only thing that influences their success, even in this period of time;
  • Their behaviour is not all about me;
  • I may not be as good as some of my colleagues, but I'm not that bad either;
  • I still have my job, I still have kids who make me gifts and visit me from previous years, and it must mean something.

* Seriously, we have talks about what respect looks like, what would be exemplary behaviour for a Year 6 student, and what reasonable expectations are. Can this be achieved in our room? (Yes! they say.) Are my consequences unreasonable - have you had difference consequences in the past that you'd prefer? (No, these are fair! they reply.) What attitudes and behaviours will we commit ourselves to? (These ones, they're ideal! they profess.) ugh.
** Previously, I knew about these things, and might have been annoyed, but they didn't get me down. Now they're part of the raft that I growl about. Ironically, I will spend this weekend writing reports, the bulk of this dedicated to page-long comments for parents, many of whom will most likely not read them due to either ESL problems or only caring about the scores. Of which there are 33 per student. Way too many for one teacher. Tra-laa!

No comments: