I love teaching. I love everything about it. I love the challenge of engaging youth in the learning process, working with students who have behavioural and/or learning challenges, and just having the opportunity to build relationships and community with the youth I serve every single day.
As a former student who struggled in the classroom, I carry a perspective about what it's like to struggle and resist teachers. This perspective motivates me to make sure that each lesson I teach is well crafted and that I try my best each day to be "on" and engaged with my students. However, this is not always the case.
I have many days each school year where I have failed to engage my students in my lesson. I have days where I am way more irritable and unable to have the patience and understanding to work with students who are difficult or challenging. I work with high-risk youth who have had horrible experiences in the traditional school system and often spend their first few months in my class challenging and rejecting every attempt I make to engage them in the learning process. It's a difficult job, but one that I take pride in.....I'm just not able to do it successfully all the time.
In my line of work, you have to redefine what success means in the classroom. Success could mean a student who shows up to class a few times a week, it could be a student completing a writing assignment for the first time in five years, or it could be when a student is able to stay in a classroom for the entire class without becoming frustrated or angry. These are huge successes for many of my students as on top of trying to get their education, they have to deal with the obstacles of living in poverty and all of the issues that stem from that.
As I work with this population, I feel an immense responsibility to be perfect, day in and day out, as a teacher to make sure that I can "hook" them into the classroom experience and motivate them to complete their high school education and move on towards a positive life. However, the reality is that I am rarely a perfect teacher. I make mistakes every day. I've never had a perfect lesson and I'm often left feeling as if I haven't done enough for my students on that day.
I'm not writing this blog as a "sob story" or from a perspective of feeling sorry for myself. But as teachers I think it's important that we recognize our limitations and reflect on what we can and cannot control in the classroom. We may often feel that we can do more, but it's also important to understand the constraints of our job and how that can limit our capacity to be effective educators. For example, I can work my ass off to be the best teacher in the world, however, until the barriers of poverty are lifted off of my students, I will continue to see how poverty can limit learning day in and day out in my classroom.
Perhaps this is an important part of my growth as a teacher. I can make the conditions in my classroom as perfect as I can for students learning, but until we can eliminate the social, economic and political barriers that create inequality in education, we will never have the perfect educational system. And that is what our advocacy as teachers must be about. We've done a lot to eliminate the mistakes we make within our classrooms, but we keep ignoring the mistakes we make in society by not speaking up and advocating for a better world for our students.