People who know me say I'm impulsive. After having the idea to adopt a dog, it took me less than 72 hours to actually go through with the adoption. It took me less than 24 hours to decide on and go through with getting my first tattoo. And starting this blog? One night I decided to make the blog just because. I then proceeded to draft three blog posts that same day (of course spacing them out throughout the next three weeks to make it seem like I actually put more time and thought into my writing!)
When people ask me how I can afford to be so impulsive...I'm not actually sure. For me, ideas are like fast moving trains.....you better catch them and hop on for the ride before the idea leaves forever. Ideas are energizing and fleeting. Ideas feel incessantly nagging, saying "Hey I'm here! Don't forget me! Act on me now!". Ideas are opportunities that give me that boost of energy to get stuff done. It feels good to be inspired.
And yet, lately I haven't been writing because I haven't been feeling inspired. I'd sit down to type out a blog post and.....that idea has already been said....this idea I already wrote about....this idea isn't interesting...this idea won't be relatable. One by one, I met ideas and rejected them. They weren't perfect enough.
And then I realized.....why the hesitation? What I was feeling was fear......fear that whatever I created would not be good enough. Because to create something is vulnerable, and who likes that feeling anyway?
The thing about creating is we ask students to do this in school all the time. We ask students to write their ideas, participate in debates, perform in front of an audience. And especially at my school (where we focus on inquiry based projects), students create all day for a grade. The thing is.... putting one's creation out there for a judge (the teacher) to assign a grade to is terrifying! No wonder why students are afraid to put their real ideas out there. No wonder why students would rather plagiarize than risk sharing their own real thoughts.
To create something doesn't require us to perfect our creation before we share it with the world. Yet, our society latches on to the misconception that you either have talent or not. We think that people are born naturally talented. It's like we ignore the fact that hours of training and practice are required to be good at anything. Everybody's got to start somewhere, so how can we celebrate this messy in-between, especially in school where students are conditioned to think they either "get it" or they don't?
People call me impulsive. I think a dash of impulsivity is needed when the task is to create something and throw that creation out there....just to see what happens. If I'm too careful all the time, I wouldn't jump at any of my ideas! Writing is like taking a leap of faith into the internet and waiting to see how people connect with the ideas. It's scary and exhilarating all. at the same time.
Me: Do you know the treatment for coronavirus?
Student: There IS no treatment
Me: I'll give you a hint....it's a system in your body that we've been studying since September
Student: Uhhh.....is the treatment just to die?
Backstory, we've been learning about the immune system since the beginning of the year. We spent one month learning about viruses, one month on pandemics, and a few months on how the immune system works to fight disease. And yet, here's this student standing right in front of me with some crazy amnesia of everything we've been learning. Nothing is more frustrating than realizing I spent dozens of hours setting up lesson plans and labs only to have this kid forget everything??
To be fair, he wasn't the strongest student, but (as many teachers will tell you) this kind of amnesia ("wait....we learned that?") is pretty common. Helping students make connections is something I struggle with on a daily basis. It's like we'll spend a whole month learning about some topic......but by the end of the month students have just spotty understandings of individual concepts. They understand the trees but not the forest. They understand the textbook questions, but it's harder for them to relate those questions to what's happening in the world around them. Even as an adult, I struggle to connect ideas across different systems, but when I make those connections I know the feeling (that lightbulb moment of "oh THAT's why that's there" or "oh THAT's what that is for").
Then along came my grad school classmate Lior and his awesome workshop on systems mapping! Systems mapping is a method of concept mapping meant to help students see the forest and not just the trees. Here's how we did it.
Step 1: Brain Dump
Step 2: Connected Circles
The awesome thing about systems mapping is that the task is group worthy, meaning students naturally work in groups without the teacher requiring group work to happen. Because this kind of concept mapping was more cognitively demanding, more heads were better than one in order to get the job done. I definitely plan to use systems mapping more moving forward. It's a great example of an inquiry based way of concept mapping new ideas, where areas of dense connections naturally appear for students to notice and analyze.
Yesterday I was leading the class through a class discussion when a student starts blasting music from his phone. I remind the student several times "Please put the phone away".... he ignores me. I speak with him individually and he starts to mock me- "Ok whatever you SAY Ms. Tsai blah blah blah BLAH" **makes a weird face
Both the student and I start to feel angry. I feel like I want to grab this kid and shake the immaturity out of him (don't worry I don't actually do that.....but if I could.....)
Teaching is unique in that my emotional reaction to day to day situations has a real impact on the students that I serve. More generally, my mindset has a ripple effect through everything I do. In this situation, I have a few choices to make. Do I respond to the anger first? Or do I respond to the situation first? The choice may seem obvious, but I find that in practice making the right choice is easier said than done. In practice, I find that it's easier to default to a place of fear-- If I don't show this student how angry I am, the student won't understand he's in trouble, and I'll lose control of the class. Therefore, I need to assert my authority as the one in charge.
But....what would it be like to practice separating myself from fear (fear of losing control of the class....fear of letting kids "get away with" cheating or breaking the rules.......)
I was listening to a podcast by Angela Watson, an educator and author, and she introduced me to this idea of radical acceptance. Radical acceptance means dealing "realistically with the facts of the situation and sitting with the discomfort of the present moment instead of insisting it shouldn't be happening". Radical acceptance does not mean "suck it up and muscle your way through it". Radical acceptance is a way to conserve energy in order to actually focus and make change towards the situation at hand. Like mindfulness...but applied in a practical way.
Going back to the scenario I wrote about in the beginning of this post, there are two ways I could have responded.
The way I see it, radical acceptance can help us to pause long enough in the present moment when upsetting things occur in school in order to 1) identify our fear and 2) react from a place of confidence. And I'm not saying I'm an expert in actually doing this....but it's something I want to practice going forward.
In my student teaching, it was common for me to see teachers shame students, kick them out of class, lecture students harshly, or even call students names. What would happen if teachers were more sensitive to not just how our students are feeling...but how we're feeling? Maybe it could help us stay present, stay engaged, and meet students where they are. Maybe it could help us lead students in the right direction from a place of confidence rather than fear.