Sunday, March 8, 2020

SOL20 Slice #8 On the prowl

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life Story Challenge (SOL20).  
All participants are sharing stories about moments in their lives, writing 
 every day for the month of March 2020.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

One of my goals for this blog, "Writing Beside Me," is to write about those things that keep cropping up in my head...those peripherals that hold on for awhile, for some unknown reason. They don't typically have to do directly with my teaching. The March challenge revs up this writing goal, because I'm not as able to let something 'stew,' or to bask in side-line thinking. I'm on the lookout for different topics - looking closely, listening, wondering...'on the prowl,' as it were.

These past few days, I've been out of town for an early childhood conference, where my colleague Hannah and I presented a workshop on "The Needs of Young Learners," focusing on five social-emotional needs that our school refers to as the ABCDEs: Autonomy, Belonging, Competence, Developmentally-appropriateness, and Engagement. Rather than share my whole talk, I want to share my 'residuals,' what I keep thinking about....

For one part of our workshop, we had teachers share about their own negative experiences in school, and whether one or more of these five needs had gone unmet. We didn't wallow in the negative for too long; most of our workshop was very uplifting and positive. However, it's these sour thoughts that I keep thinking about.

These teachers shared:
  • feeling embarrassed,
  • being singled out for not doing the expected work,
  • being stifled creatively,
  • feeling bored,
  • teacher speaking aggressively,
  • given no second chance, no do-over,
  • being scolded.
  • being shamed for not understanding,
  • being made to sit apart,
  • not held to high expectations,
  • told she wasn't a good girl,
  • being isolated,
  • having no relationship with the teacher,
  • threatened that parents would be contacted,
  • feeling afraid,
  • feeling afraid to try anything new,
  • lots of tedious work,
  • feeling judged, looked down on,
  • feeling stupid.
I hope that none of my students experience any of the feelings these teachers shared, and, yet, I know I'm human and not every day is perfect. What sticks for my students? What do they carry home at the end of the day? I believe I am a very reflective person, and that I try to revisit the 'ugly' moments with students, to repair and restore, to come to a common understanding. Well, I do my best.

I am blessed with colleagues who will support me in this thinking. I'm surrounded by teachers who want to create a positive learning environment for students. I am grateful for my teaching community.

I listened intently to what the teachers shared, and I was overcome with a sense of our resilience. Teachers rock!! Seriously. I mean, we chose this profession, despite the ugly. To hear educators be so forthcoming about something negative in their own schooling, it's clear that the negative really sticks. Everyone is able to recall a moment or more that really hurt. I wonder if these moments were catalysts to becoming teachers? We teachers want to do better, want to teach better, than what we experienced.


  1. Maureen, I hope we become writing friends. I was intrigued with your reflection from your presentation. I also presented during the week (statewide conference 7 hours away) so I am tired from the 2 workshops in one day and the level of interaction with the teachers. I do love working with teachers to help them rekindle or extend their passion for teaching. It sounds like we are connected in our goals. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I read the list thinking about my own teaching days and days as a student. I know I'm guilty of many of these transgressions, and I worry about that, especially no longer being in the classroom. I remember sending an email to every parent of one class when I got angry about something, and apologized to the class, not in generalities, but in specifics. We've come a long way since the days of professors telling us to be tough the first half of the year to maintain control. That never felt natural or good to me. I only hope students' overall memory of their time in my class is positive.

    BTW, one of my NCTE sessions last fall was in part on SEL. Carol Jago talked about the role of literature in teaching SEL. Of course, she was spectacular. I wrote an article for the Feb SEL themed issue of California English.

  3. Maureen, I feel your pain. Having taught in elementary schools for 25+ years and now teaching pre-service teachers, I, too, think about all my years of teaching and pray that I have never brought these kinds of negative feelings to a student. Although, we probably have unconsciously. When we talk in courses with pre-service teachers, they, too, have had these experiences. Sometimes, they are wanting to be a teacher to give their students a better experience than they had themselves. As much as we teach them about Culturally Responsive Practices and Social Emotional Learning, so easily it is to revert to the practices in which one grew up with - just out of overwhelm. Apprenticeship of observation is real. Being conscious of it is a first step and it sounds like you are helping teachers do that. :-)

  4. I like your insights and thoughts. I think it is also important to remember negatives can be positives and help us to become resilient. I was given the gift of always knowing I would be a music teacher. I remember at a very young age thinking, "when I'm a teacher, I'm not gonna do that". When I was in High School I overheard 2 teachers referring to me and comparing me to my 2 underachieving etc. siblings. I became a 4.0 students every semester after that-I am not my brother or sister. I think moments like you had and honest reflection help keep us on the path to be not only the teachers but the people we want to be.