When I am teaching, when I inhabit that role of “teacher,” stuff happens. In me, to me, around me, because of me. I rise and I fall. I succeed and I fail. I keep it together and things fall apart. In a day, in an hour, in a class, in a moment there are cycles, waves, patterns, stages. I am on the ball and then behind the ball. I have the solution and I forgot the question. I have everything under control and my students need release. I am in my element and simultaneously out of my depth.
When I call myself “the teacher,” this is what I notice:
- I notice that a great deal of my teacher talk to students refers to time. Not just time in general, but most often to indicate a scarcity of time. “Let’s go,” I say. “Hustle.” “Hurry up now, we’re running late.” “30 seconds!” “We ran out of time, boys and girls.” I say that quite a lot.
- Knowing names is something I practice at every turn. Almost every interaction is an opportunity to call someone’s name. “Ella, can you come be partners with Luke, please.” “I see Josh and Emilia have lots of space.” When I call a name I am saying: “I see you, I know who you are, I recognize you. You belong here.”
- Every day I could kick myself for not remembering that children find waiting hard and tedious.
- Freedom for a child can be as simple as a run at full speed eluding a tagger.
- I have experienced few children under the age of 6 who are able to commence a game of tag without screaming at the top of their lungs while they disperse.
- I have a student who vexes me. I see that I will have to work so hard on myself in order to make our relationship work that I have to practice deep breathing often when he is with me. If I look a little more closely I see that he has a temper as hot and swift as my own. The struggle probably has more to do with seeing so much of myself in him for a whole class period.
- On the other hand, I have a first grader who often confides as she enters the gym: “Mrs. Spelic, I really like the activities we do in PE.” That is sustaining and life extending.
- Now that I’m back to teaching I enjoy incidental exercise – bounding up the stairs, practicing squats while I wait, stretching with the kids – more than the ‘now-I’ll-go-over-here-and-have-a workout’ variety. That may have to do with age.
- My need for chocolate has increased significantly in the last three weeks.
- One first grader who was hardly able to participate one day, enthusiastically volunteered to be “it” in our tag game on the next. Great! Game started and I noticed her chasing classmates with a long skinny object, which from the distance resembled a pencil. I dashed over to her and recognized it as a faintly purple colored straw. When I told she would need to put it away on the bench because it wasn’t safe to run around with, she said, “But it’s my wand.” She was telling the truth and she put it on the bench.
While I am away from my kids for a couple of days, I wish them all the time in the world where the choice to hustle is entirely their own. Where “late” just doesn’t enter the picture and there’s always time for one more round of whatever it is.
What I notice when I am not teaching is that the hardest work I have in teaching is being: being myself, being whole and imperfect, being both right and wrong, being aware, attentive, and present. Being. Just.