What can teachers really control?

This is the month when New Year’s resolutions are grasped with intensity and then discarded with quiet disappointment. Yet hope seems to re-sprout with each new beginning, whether that of a school year, a budget cycle, calendar year or sports season.

Recently I have discarded my lifelong focus on outcomes.  I had become a slave to working for a specific result.

As a professional French teacher, I long to see students achieve skill AND joy in the foreign language involvement.  Nothing inherently wrong with that.  Except my approach has been to hand over far too much power to my students to grant me the ‘success’ or even the ‘peace’ that I crave.

Yes, ‘crave’.  In fact, I now see a pattern that has emerged in my life. As I grow older, I find it easier to see themes and responses to life that I, by my actions, have crafted, either consciously or subconsciously.  Finally, I’m gaining the courage to give myself permission to STOP.

Is anyone else like me, in measuring one’s day by how well people react?  You might be a kindred sister or brother if you are a performer like a musician, stand-up comedian, speech-giver, writer, film maker or even a coach.  Another way of describing this insatiable need in me is to say that I crave ‘feeling competent’ at what I do.

When I was student teaching I remember thinking that ONE day when I had taught as long as my mentor teacher had, teaching would be easy and I would be a competent teacher.

I can tell you after almost 25 years of teaching, I don’t feel the competency or confidence that I both imagined and assumed would be mine. It eludes me.  Oh, there are occasions throughout each school year when I feel that a class went particularly well and that gives me a rush.  But they are not the norm!

But since Christmas, something has helped slay the ‘expectations’ dragon.  My husband and I spent the holiday with our youngest son and his family in Richmond.  My daughter-in-law has embraced the BIG responsibility of homeschooling.  Their oldest child is of Kindergarten age.  She shared with me how she struggles every day with feeling overwhelmed.  She fears that she is not ‘doing it, homeschooling, right’.  Fortunately, a more mature mom listened to her and offered this simplifying and anxiety-relieving advice:

“Anne, your job each day is to lay a feast before your children of what is True, Beautiful and Good.”

In other words, she can’t make them eat, but she can entice them to want to eat.  I immediately connected that wisdom with my work as a French teacher.

Middle school students have a lot on their minds.  Pressing issues with friends, sports and family travel to class with these precious children.  Sometimes the problems are so overwhelming to them that nothing I do with French is going to be compelling. Our responsibility as teachers is to remove the obstacles that we can and then do our best to motivate them to WANT to ‘eat’.

You and I are created beings, contingent and very dependent on forces outside of our control.  We control little.  But what we CAN do is provide the richest, most compelling and appropriate INPUT to these students.

That seems far more ‘doable’.  Furthermore,whether I FEEL competent or not truly has nothing to do with my very simple but challenging responsibility.

With the outcomes off the plate, maybe I can enjoy the process and celebrate the progress more easily.

So much to learn…..and grateful to be given opportunities to grow and change.

 

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