Embracing Discomfort

I created a beautiful, color-coded, curriculum map. I planned out all 26 weeks of the school year by topic. I even went through each week and added the standards we would meet. I made detailed lesson plans for the first week of school. I outlined our daily activities from the first day of school until the end of the second quarter (August 21st – January 12th). I did all of this because I will be attending graduate school and wanted to be able to enter my classroom fully prepared so all I had to worry about was teaching and adjusting as the schedule and student needs changed.

Last week, I had to scrap everything and start over.

When I first visited the school, I received several rubrics outlining the way certain subjects are taught, how classrooms are set up, and how staff interact with students. Even though I had this information, my plan was still to make the rubric fit what I already had in mind for teaching middle school.

I’ve been (im)patiently waiting to start my new job since April. Before then, I was (im)patiently waiting to get a teaching job because I felt called back into the classroom. This last year has been a test in letting life unfold to get to the place I wanted to be. It’s been difficult, but I kept hoping and telling myself, “this, too, shall pass” until it passed.

An additional way I got through this time was planning. It filled me with a lot of hope to imagine what I was going to teach. I figured it would also be a future timesaver. I created bell ringers and grammar exercises. I spent hours developing assignments, selecting vocabulary words, and creating a class website.

I like to think I embrace change really well. I got a sense of superiority when I read Disrupting Thinking because a lot of the book’s arguments support my reading teaching philosophy. Then I got to the chapter about teaching a whole class novel. A whole month of my 26-week plan to morph 8th graders into lifelong readers was to read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian as a class. I had already downloaded chapters from YouTube for students at a lower reading level so they could listen instead of read the chapters independently. Beers and Probst had the audacity to challenge my plans! They advised teachers should not teach whole class novels, and if they do, it should not be for longer than a week.

So I planned to read one novel in a week and then have my class to literature circles. There! I adapted.

Last week was my first day of work. After a training on the school’s approach to literacy and speaking with the other ELA teacher, I realized my ideas were not going to work. My rigid goals to focus on certain genres and concepts did not align with the literacy initiative at the school. I was grumpy. I wanted to place an emphasis on digital and visual literacy, and there is no time to do this.

I’ve been working on reframing my thinking. Is it beneficial to focus on utilizing technology if kids can’t even read at grade level? Even if I did spend all of this time planning, is that time worth more than what works best for my students?

I did some more reading. Probst and Beers had planted a seed that maybe I don’t know it all. I just finished The Book Whisperer and the author makes many excellent points about giving students choice and emphasized that the best way to improve reading is to give students time to read. I’m currently reading Attachment-Based Teaching and it’s forcing me out of my comfort zone for establishing classroom routines. The author encourages teachers to relinquish a lot power and decision-making to students.

Everything I will end up doing in my classroom aligns with my desire to be a critical pedagogue. I didn’t have all of the tools I needed to implement a more student-centered approach to learning. Yeah, I’ve heard about differentiation, but I was never really taught how to do it effectively. All-in-all, I’ve learned I might have some control issues and I’m more resistant to change than I thought. I also recognize I need to accept the unanticipated challenges I will face because they are unavoidable. All I can do is roll with it and do what is best for my kids – not what is easiest for me.