One of my favorite parts of my job is introducing my students to great works of literature that they might never pick up and read on their own. During second quarter, we teach Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. I really love the seventh grade curriculum that our team of teachers has built over the past couple of years as we've implemented Common Core, but I have to say that teaching this particular work is one of the highlights of my school year. What I love so much about A Christmas Carol is the fact that there is so much depth to Ebenezer Scrooge's character. It seems like every year I'm fortunate to learn something new about this character from the understandings of each new group of students. I love how they look at this work in a new way each year and focus in on different aspects of Scrooge's character.
This week as we read the play, class after class kept focusing on the same thing--Scrooge's childhood. Poor Ebenezer Scrooge has a pretty crummy childhood. He has little to no relationship with his father, he is isolated and has few friends, and the only person he loves, his sister, dies as a young woman. In almost every class, at least one student brought up the point that it's not hard to see how Ebenezer Scrooge became a mean, isolated old miser. He was a product of his childhood experiences. Instead of showing resilience and overcoming his childhood isolation and sadness, he let it define him.
To say the least, I was really impressed that my students got to this particular point on their own. I ask guiding questions as we read, but this particular understanding of Scrooge's character came straight from my students. It caused me to reflect on how this idea of being defined by our circumstances holds parallel to our own everyday lives as teachers. Many of our students struggle not to be defined by their circumstances. I teach a very socioeconomically diverse group of students. Some of them have incredibly supportive, involved families while some of my students are practically raising themselves. It's not difficult to see the impact of their environment on their social and academic lives.
I also started to reflect on how this idea of being a product of our surroundings could connect to teachers. Our school surroundings try to impact us all the time. In the three years I've been teaching full-time, I've been part of completely overhauling a curriculum, implementing new policies, and learning a new teacher evaluation system. I'd say those things could have a pretty large impact on my teaching. Teachers, in general, seem to always be having new things heaped on them or thrown at them. Instead of removing some tasks and replacing them with others, it seems to me that, many times, more and more things are added to our proverbial "plates" until we have so much on our plate that it can't all feasibly get accomplished.
Here's the thing, though. We have to decide, collectively, if we will be a product of our environment or with we will choose, instead, to define our schools. Now, obviously, I don't mean that we can decide what we want to do and don't want to do and just say "shove it" to everything else. What I mean is that we can choose to let our struggles (i.e., teacher evaluation, high stakes testing, crazy parents, crazy students, mountains of paperwork, etc.) define our day-to-day, or we can face these things knowing that despite them, we will do what it takes to impact the lives of the children we teach and we will reflect on and appreciate the small, sweet moments when our students have a positive impact on us.
Personally, I don't want to be a Scrooge. However, I know there are days when I'm a Scrooge about the plethora of tasks involved in doing my job. My Christmas resolution is to be less of a Scrooge and more of a Tiny Tim. I want to appreciate the little positive things in my day instead of focusing on the big frustrating things. I want to define my environment, not let it define me.