Through the eyes of a child
Reflections on teacher and student motivation
by Sheree Rensel
One of the great advantages to getting older is the ability gained to see experiences with a long, clear vision. After years of living, we begin to see the patterns and cycles of events with new eyes. Veteran teachers are no exception. They have seen the pendulum swing repeatedly sometimes with a dizzying swoosh. Yet, most grab onto the moving target of change and hold on for dear life. They know how to morph, bend, and mold themselves into the shape of the educational moment. They know they will survive. Veteran teachers also know there will be good years and bad years. They know how to reflect and analyze their successes and failures. It is due to a reflective summer that I write these notes about teacher and student motivation.
Last year was a bad year for me. Maybe it shouldnít be called "bad." Perhaps, I should say last year was all too challenging. I was over worked, too stressed, had too many commitments, and I started to dislike teaching. Some of this turmoil was brought on by the system, but I brought a lot of this on myself. I took on just too much. There were warning signs. Sleepless nights, grumpy days, and lack luster teacher afternoons. It just couldnít be true. I love teaching! I love my students! How could this be happening? By the end of the school year, I was drained. There was never a year in which I appreciated or needed summer vacation more.
A restful week or two into summer break, I began to think about why this happened. I realized that in the past few years I have made such an effort to be an even more accomplished teacher, that I let the true reasons for teaching slip into the background. I began to remember when I first started teaching and how I would jump out of bed just so I could get to school early. The anticipation of the day was palpable. I remembered working with the kids and at times flashing back to my own childhood. I would remember projects and moments I had in first, second, third, EVERY grade! I was one of those kids who just loved school. You know the kind of which I speak. The kid who just loves to learn and comes to school with wide eyes and ears waiting for the teacher to fill them up with new images and sounds. I realized how I see those same childlike eyes of wonderment in my own students every year.
A few more summer days went by and I would think more about that curious little girl who loved school so much she grew up to be a teacher. It occurred to me that when she would arrive at school each day she didnít care if the teacher had filled out all the paperwork or aligned every lesson to all the standards. The little girl cared about seeing the teacher greet her at the door with a giant smile. She cared about getting to learn about bugs and rocks. She didnít think about her teacherís behavior management procedures or pedagogical philosophy. She cared about art class on Thursday and the wonderful mess she was allowed to make. She cared about being allowed to write on the board with chalk. She cared about the teacherís gentle touch when she struggled to get her boots off after recess. She cared about how the teacher would call on her to be an "assistant." She cared about all the little things that made her feel so smart and important when she was at school. That is why she was so motivated to learn every day.
As these visions of the past lingered in my mind with each summer day, I started to realize why I had such a difficult time last year. I had forgotten how to make the joy of teaching and learning my priority. Of course as teachers, we have to worry about behavior management, students, parents, administrators, standards, curriculum, substitutes, policies, paperwork, state mandates, procedures, procedures, and more proceduresÖ However, we must remember where they should be placed within our work in the classroom. I had put them on the front burner, so to speak. I started to wear them on my face! This mask disguised me so well, I didnít recognize myself, my purpose, or my reason for teaching anymore. I decided it would be different this year.
The new school year has now begun. The past few weeks have been the most glorious of my career to date. So far, I have had the most productive classes ever. I arrive to school smiling and continue smiling all day long. There is new excitement researching new lesson ideas and new ways to teach those lessons. Curious questions fly across the room. My kids are learning quickly and well. The laughter in my classroom is loud. The hugs are numerous and giggles frequent. I leave school thinking with anticipation of the coming days.
This rejuvenation of spirit came from the understanding that motivation is contagious and interlocking. When a teacher remembers some of the simple things that really matter to her students, all of the educational challenges which arise seem smaller. Teachers will always have obstacles and stressors, but if we remember to grasp the joy of those "teacher moments," motivation returns. Most importantly, we must remember to help make "student moments" for our kids to take with them to keep for the rest of their lives. You will know when this happens. You will see it in their eyes.
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