Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Thanks for the Struggle

With Finals week around the corner, I find myself reflecting on the chaos and the awesomeness of this semester of my life. One thing that I've always loved about being a teacher is the defined beginning and ending of each season within which I work. This year, since my students will be moving on to new classes in the spring rather than coming back to English class, I find myself feeling oddly nostalgic already. Teaching kids for only a semester is so bittersweet. I'm saying goodbye to such a fun, interesting group of students; I'm so excited for a restful Christmas break, but I am definitely sad to think that I won't see this group of kids everyday when we return in January. I feel like I'm really just getting to know some of them.

In reflecting on this semester, I realized that one thing I've really tried to stress through the literature we've read is the importance of thinking for oneself. I want my students to be free thinkers. I want them to be confident in their own ability to justify their opinions. I want them to pull away from the group think of the herd and figure things out for themselves. That is so hard in high school. Let's be real, it's difficult in adulthood, too. There is so much pressure to keep your head down and fit in; there is so much pressure to do what you're "supposed" to do. Society constantly tries to dictate our choices if we let it.

As I scroll through the news and social media lately, I can't help but start to worry about this herd mentality, this lack of critical thinking in our society.  Our kids have to learn to look critically and objectively at a problem and decide for themselves what they believe about that problem and its solution. There's a lot of danger in the alternative.

I've also found that removing the "right" answers has been liberating for many of my students this semester. Students that have been told for most of their secondary education that they aren't "good at school" have opened up and flourished in an environment of inquiry, a place where it's safe to ask questions and struggle and fail forward.

I'm so thankful everyday for the opportunity to be a part of this journey with my students. I love that I get to build a community of learning where we walk through open doors of thought instead of standing in front of closed doors of conformity and wrong answers and doing what's always been done.

This semester, I feel like I've stretched myself as a teacher more than I ever have before. Having a clean slate to plan a course gave me the freedom to take things I've always wanted to do and do them. It gave me the courage to change it up because what did I really have to lose? It's been frustrating and intense and stressful at times, but it's definitely been worth it. If I'm going to ask kids to struggle, then it's only fair that I join them in that struggle to be better every day. I'll just tell you this. It's been a great struggle so far.

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