The Best Intentions

It is bound to happen. You plan, you prepare, and you feel ready to teach. Then things just don’t go the way they’re supposed to. This has happened to me as a teacher, as a parent, as a homeschooler, and as a parent volunteer in my kids’ co-op classes. When a lesson tanks, it’s easy to throw your hands up and admit defeat, but there is always a lesson to be learned for both you and your students.

As a student teacher, I had a group of 4th graders that I worked with weekly in math. It was the first half of the year and we were reaching our math goals like clockwork…until we tackled long division. Every week we learned the process. I made up cute stories about numerators and denominators to help them understand. I’d teach the lesson, we’d work together on a few problems, and I would feel confident that they got it. They’d go home on Friday as capable dividers and return to me every Monday with no memory of how to work the problems. This went on for a few weeks until I finally tabled the concept and moved on to something else.  Not a comfortable move for me. Toward the end of the year, we tackled long division again. This time, it clicked right away. That is when I realized that brain development is not just a term in textbooks. There are concepts that kids will not understand until their brain is ready. Lesson learned.

When I homeschooled my daughter last year, I made sure to include art lessons at least once a week. I love being crafty and creative and want to give my kids as much hands-on fun as possible. I made a sample project (oil pastels on paper) and explained the project to my daughter. As we dove in, we made small talk but I could tell my daughter was distracted. Before she even finished her project she was in tears. I honestly didn’t know what to do. We had worked on much harder lessons in math and science and nothing like tears ever happened. After she calmed down and I abandoned the lesson, she explained to me that she didn’t like her results compared to the sample I had made. She wanted hers to look just as “good”. I explained that art is all about expressing yourself and that no two pieces should look alike and that her work was great on it’s own. I felt awful. From then on, we continued our weekly art lessons but I never made a sample again. I learned about my daughter and her incredibly high expectations of herself that day.

Now that I am a volunteer in a co-op classroom, I am experiencing these kinds of challenges again except without as much control. I am not the kids’ teacher. The students only see me once a week for a couple of hours. There is a behavior system in place but I’m still not comfortable with when or how to implement it with kids I am still getting to know. The kids do not earn a grade with me. Plus, kids are plucked out of my group for assessments regularly, which makes it hard to engage them or help them catch up. It is challenging.

During my lesson this week, all of these elements came together to make a particularly lackluster lesson. Most of the kids completed their work but their engagement just wasn’t there. There were a couple of students who were tough to get through the lesson at all. I walked away that afternoon feeling frustrated and wondering if it was just a big waste of time. But I know it wasn’t. For some of the kids, school is the only reliable routine they have in their life. Me showing up every week shows them that there are safe adults who care enough about them to be there. Now, that doesn’t mean I will let them run amuck. They are testing their limits and learning about me too. Are they experts on the subject I taught? No. Did we all walk away learning a little bit more about how we work together? Yes. The kids can have an off day but they will come to understand that my standard for their behavior and expectation of them when they’re with me will not change. That’s good for all of us.

There is always a lesson to be learned.

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