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A Necessary Spark

January 9, 2012 / by Sarah Brown Wessling

As the new semester unfolds after winter break, I seem to find myself back in some "beginning" places. With new students, the continuation of a new prep and routines to re-establish, this week always leaves me feeling out of "teaching" shape and scattered. However, this last week has also re-connected me with a few former students who are now somewhere along the continuum of becoming teachers. From first observations to beginning student teaching, it's their questions that have brought me "closer to center" and have poised my thinking onward. Here are three of the questions that have reminded me why we do this intrepid work:

students asking Sarah questions

Sarah in her classroom

What is the hardest aspect of teaching these days?

Reading our own compasses. There is a euphoria that comes with learning. For many teachers, it is what draws them into the classroom. But it doesn't take long for our teaching days to become cluttered with the "things" that surround learning: copy machines, tardy policies, cell phones, or grade programs. It's easy to lose track of what's most important when everything seems to carry the same weight of significance. Each teacher in each classroom could offer a different response about what is most challenging in the profession; and in all likelihood, it could change from day to day. But we must resist being distracted from creating the kinds of authentic experiences that both challenge and resonate with learners.

What makes a good day for you?

The best days are when students ask the best questions. I revel in cognitive dissonance and I count on my students to propel me to contemplation as much as I propel them. When I have to run to my desk in the back of the room to write down a question on a sticky note, or when I jot down an insight on a book jacket, I know we're having a good day.

This student teaching isn't what I expected at all. I feel like my whole body has been rattling and shaking. I know your first year at Johnston was tough. Do you have any advice?

…I think if you can also determine what the barometers of success will look like (especially at the beginning) then I think you'll find a bit more peace. I remember days, with some classes, where I would write down at the end of the day three positive things that happened. Sometimes I even wrote "Adam brought a pencil today." This isn't to say I wasn't invested in his larger academic goals, but you also have to take nods to progress wherever you can get them.

I think that, ultimately, what you're experiencing is some painful disillusionment about how you envisioned student teaching. This is not quite what you expected and you're probably feeling like the way you prepared for this experience isn't matching the reality of it at all. And that's just tough, isn't it? I mean, there's no way to get around it, just through it. And you will.

  • You will find successes in small moments.
  • You will make relationships with students who need your kind and nurturing voice.
  • You will find a way to get them to make sense of a text.
  • You will get them to show they can do higher-level work, even if it is just glimpses right now.
  • You will find that this school will teach you valuable lessons about adapting.
  • You will have the most amazing management skills when you're done, that you'll be great in any teaching scenario you encounter in the future.
  • You will know why you're meant to be a teacher.

And here's the reality of it all. Teaching is tough and the "magic" takes a lot of patience and perseverance. But you have that spark and you'll see it, day by day in both small and significant ways.

Day by day, in small and significant ways, we are always reigniting that spark!

Sarah

Topics: Professional Learning, New Teachers, Classroom Experiences

Sarah Brown Wessling

Written by Sarah Brown Wessling

Sarah Brown Wessling is a high school English teacher in Johnston, Iowa. She is the 2010 National Teacher of the Year and is the Teacher Laureate for Teaching Channel. Connect with Sarah on Twitter – @SarahWessling.

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