I was feeling very burnt out today.
The reasons why have been accumulating since I hurt my knee in the first week of school and was out for a month.
Then this morning my lesson on the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. fire failed and I found out that a boy who choked a classmate then used a marker to pretend to masturbate would not even get a one-day suspension.
I just love it how we teach our students that their actions have no consequences then wonder why they don’t learn to behave better.
When my last class ended I just sat down to gather the energy to go home.
That’s when two of my 6th grade students came in to get some more information prior to a class debate between advocates for the Athenian and Spartan lifestyles.
One of the girls is a bubbly, athletic and enthusiastic ball of energy, the other was S, who I have written about before.
After a half-hour the first girl left.
S and I continued to talk.
We talked about ancient Greece, ancient Rome, and also about modern family life. We chatted about predictions that the world wound end in 2012 and agreed that there probably would be a 2013 and more.
I taught her about the butterfly effect and the random but thoroughly interconnected series of events that we are all part of and affected by.
We discussed global warming, the Ice Age, the water cycle and the first law of thermodynamics (though that’s not what I called it).
Just when I needed it most, I remembered the joy I get from teaching.
In our third hour of chatting I told her about the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and I helped her understand how to find the area of an isosceles trapezoid.
To outside eyes each of us was taking a huge risk.
I was breaking the most basic rule of being a male teacher; sitting in a classroom alone with a just-turned 12-year-old girl. And she was sitting with me.
We could do this because we trust each other. We feel safe with each other.
The distillation of my philosophy came to me as I was telling S how I realized she was different from almost every student I’ve taught.
Whenever I ask a question requiring a higher-order thinking skill and the rest of her class stares at me as if I were speaking Klingon, she will raise her hand slowly and say, “I’m not sure, but…”
That is my education philosophy distilled to its most essential point.
“I’m not sure, but…”
I want all my students – all students – to feel safe enough, secure enough, challenged enough and supported enough to take the risk that S takes.
No, I don’t mean spending almost three hours alone with a teacher.
I want them all to be able to say…
“I’m not sure, but…”
If we can get our students to that point I guarantee they will learn.
So how do we get them there?
I’m not sure.