November 8, 2010

Teaching with and through Anxiety

Any good teacher has felt it at some point in their career. It could occur at the beginning middle or end. At the beginning we have almost no idea of what we are doing. Master teachers and mentors try to guide us in their own convoluted, or misguided, or even sincere ways. But, teaching is one of the most personally satisfying and damaging professions. The weight of the future placed upon your shoulders. High stakes testing adding to the mix doesn't help either. So, how do we get through it.

One classic method, heavily frowned upon in the educational world, is detachment. The teacher's growing belief that failure can be blamed on everything but themselves. Most often teachers put the blame back on the students. They aren't how THEY used to be THEY don't care, etc.

Another option has been a transference of blame from one aspect of education to another. We blame policy makers for the changes in the system. Then, we blame administrators for upholding those policies. It is very similar to how my students blame me for catching them on dresscode violations. The rules are not mine, but I enforce them because they are the rules.

The third way of responding is self ridicule. Some of the best teachers have a habit of blaming themselves for EVERYTHING. Teaching 11th grade English, my wife struggles to get students with 5th or 6th grade reading levels to become successful in their work. In addition, students withthose sorts of needs require added strategies and preparation to give them the OPPORTUNITY for success.

Here is where I see the problem. As teachers we need to provide differentiated instruction and the opportunity for success to every student. It's like the old saying, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink. Students are individual people. Every opportunity that we put in front of them is a choice that THEY have to make. We can make it look as exciting and beneficial/lucrative as possible, but the choice falls back to them.

Fail or succeed. We give them the tools, then we need to let them make their choices and then live with the consequences. Is that too much to ask or too little of teachers?

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