I have been reading. A lot. The more I read, though, the less I seem to understand anything at all. I’m trying to find the answer to how to teach. I don’t mean the technical part. After twenty odd years, I’m confident I can plan a lesson, organize a classroom, adapt, modify, assess, intervene, revise. I’m always learning, of course, but I’m “on my way,” as a teacher might say. What I mean, though, is the rest of teaching, the part that no one seems to talk about.
I’m not even sure I can put it into words. It’s the day-to-day and moment-to-moment work of teaching. It’s how to be present even when you are tired or sad, how to stay calm and ready to hear the children even when you are frustrated or hot or hungry, how to keep trying to help a child who pushes you away at every opportunity, who hurts the other children, who sometimes weeps uncontrollably in the cloakroom. It’s the decisions day-to-day and moment-to-moment of teaching – what to teach these children before you (not the ones you planned for), how to teach them in this moment for this lesson (should I begin with a pretest? an anticipation guide? paired conversations? a video?), when to keep pushing forward even when the children seem lost or bored, when to stop and let them run or change directions entirely to begin again differently. It’s all the things that need to be created in the moment, moments that can’t be planned for or polished up. It’s finding space to think about this part of teaching in a day filled with doing and assessing, planning, organizing, organizing, organizing to begin again the next day.
My brother used to send me pithy quotes like this one: whatever you focus on is what you get. I’m beginning to wonder if what I want to focus on can’t be found in books. Perhaps all this reading is only pointing me in the wrong direction. How, after all, can we capture in words what exists only in a moment, in this moment, when Janice looks at me with a question in her eyes and the light of hope shining behind. And the moment passes.
What’s funny, though, is that it is the moments, in the end, that last, that we remember, that inspire or discourage us, that stay with us, like the last conversation I had with my brother thirteen years ago. I was telling him fishing stories from my trip to Haida Gwaii. He was laughing. Save some for later, he said. Tell them to me when you get here.