#33: letting go of summer dreams

I want my students to do inquiry and find answers to their own questions. I want them to use multiple intelligences to demonstrate their knowledge in creative ways. I want my students to use multimedia platforms as they engage in service learning. I want them to bring in guest speakers and do a project where they collaborate with students in another location. I also want them to read classic literature, have a chance for art inclusion, take the time to go in-depth in their editing process, read independently, participate in literature circles, work on their own science fair projects, engage in meaningful labs and simulations, practice and learn the basics of math while also engaging in deeper exploratory math projects. I want them to write a play together and go through the whole theater process together. I want them to do longer, thematic podcasts and to write an e-book together.

My problem is not that I need professional development. It’s not that I need more nifty strategies to lead me on the way toward becoming a better teacher. I don’t need another conference or seminar or workshop or TEN TOP WAYS TO USE TWITTER in my classroom. I don’t need more hyperbole. I need more simplicity. I don’t need more, I need to learn to do less. I don’t need another binder. I need an anti-binder crusader who will help remind me of the essential questions that really are essential – someone to nudge me back toward the question, “Does this help us to live well?”

The problem is that I get about 320 minutes a day. After “intervention” it drops down to about 275 minutes (I know, it sounds like a term for drug users admitting their problems, but it’s really just a chance to help kids learn to divide fractions and sound out multisyllable words).

My issue right now isn’t that I have a hard time planning, it’s that I am having a hard time figuring out what to cut from my plans, what to postpone for another quarter and what to do for the entire year and really perfect together as a class. I have all these ideas I want to run with, but I feel stuck with the fact that I have to pull back. In the physical realm I am as minimalist as it gets – no watch, no jewelry, no alarm clock, no cell phone. I have journals I wrote that I’d like to throw out, but Christy convinces me that keeping some tangible objects is still valuable.

On an intellectual level, I wonder if I hold on too tightly to ideas. Like the vacationer who grabs shards of glass and bottle caps and napkins from Hawaii, I wonder if I’ve collected too much mental junk over the summer and now it’s time to let go. I wonder if I create an emotional attachment to, say, mock trials, because they worked in the past or to journaling, since I loved it as a kid or to documentaries, since we did those in the past. I wonder if I am so attached to the ideas that I am not allowing my students in on the process of project planning.

Have I become an educational hoarder? Have I become too crowded in my imaginary tool box? Is it time for me to scrap this list of what I want to accomplish and simply focus on the current projects at hand?

Perhaps it’s time for an intervention.

So, I go back to my summer plans that are written with nicely bulleted points and I start dropping them.  I consider which ones I will bring to the class for discussion and vote and how I can encourage them to develop their own project ideas that I hadn’t listed.

I forget what it’s like each year when students come in a little slower from the summer and how long it can take for them to adjust to critical thinking questions and I forget that I had planned all summer with end-of-the-year eighth-graders and now I have students a year behind, because it’s the b eginning of the cycle.  I start thinking about the growth that happens and how long we have and it becomes easier to lose some of the ideas, because somewhere in this year we’ll go back to the lost and found and use a few of the summer ideas that I am now abandoning.

One of the best parts of teaching is the realism of it.  It’s the daily reality of a finite amount of time to accomplish a task.  It’s the notion of context that prevents me from getting too idealistic and thus too crushed by the world.

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