It’s time for Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers! Read a few more or join us with a slice of your own and add it to the comments here. It’s summer and time is stretched out. Teachers are vacationing with family, lazing by the pool. But based on the blogs I read, summertime is also cherished learning time. Some are packing up and taking off for teaching institutes, spending days away from their families with other passionate learners. These opportunities give tangible examples of how to teach, but also the experience of being the student. To sit in that chair, to be engaged, to feel times of struggle, to be unsure of your answer, to misunderstand directions, to loose focus.
I certainly had all of these feelings last week at TCRWP’s summer reading institute. I was energized and engaged. But I had moments when I struggled, when I wasn’t all I wanted to be. I was less than. I couldn’t help but start to process things through the eyes of struggle.
It was Tuesday morning. I had planned to run before class, and I knew I had to be out the door running at 6:00 am. This meant I had to get out of bed by 5:45. It was painful. That morning my “no think, just do it” brain got me out of bed. Sometimes when I struggle, I get through by just doing, without thinking. I trust or believe that things will get better. That it will be worth it, at some point.
I search my purse for the hotel key card. I find my Metro card, my ATM, but no hotel card. I dump my purse’s contents out on the bed. A message pops up on my phone. I check it out. Hit the link. Minutes go by. I reorganize my purse. More time eaten away. Eventually I find the hotel card, on the bedside table. When I’m fighting with the whole idea of running, getting out the door can be the hardest part. Something, anything can distract me. A phone message, an email, the smell of coffee, a newspaper, something I notice on the way to my keys. All of a sudden time has slipped by and I’m still not running.
Some of you might applaud my efforts, saying, hey some exercise is better than none. And I can say that; pat myself on the back. But are we setting the bar a bit low? Would you be thinking the same thing about a student who was starting a book with the same not thinking, just doing attitude, going through the motions so to speak. How is my struggle any different?
Enter my classroom a few months ago and picture “Andy” His ripped book baggie is on his desk, and he’s digging deep into his backpack looking for his book, his post its, his notebook, his pen. Book and pen discovered, they land on his desk. He continues to dig for the post its. After a bit, he looks up, looks around, spots the box of post its on the shelf, and off he goes to retrieve some. Meanwhile his pen has rolled to the floor. Back at his seat, minutes pass as he looks for that pen. The book is closed. He gets up, walks to where pens are stored in the writing center. Finally back at his desk, the book opens. He’s doing what looks like he’s suppose to do but the lack of desire, the lack of purpose, the just-go-through-the-motions attitude is apparent. Reading is a painful struggle for him.
I’m thinking you recognize this reader. Do you recognize the process of struggle in yourself? Maybe not as a reader, but in some other place in your life?
When we have to do something that involves struggle, we’d rather do anything else. Not that we don’t want to be great runners or readers, eventually. Just right now, we’re tired. It hurts. But we have to do this. So we open the door. We open the book. And go through the motions.
Clearly something is better than nothing, but how much longer will this work continue. Improvement? Not much. And it just isn’t good enough.
So as I enter my classroom next year, I know that struggle is the norm and overcoming it with purpose, passion and a plan is the goal. I want to process my students through my own lens of struggle. Remembering how hard it can be and looking for what keeps us getting up and going out the door. Because I believe if we meet our struggles with purpose, passion and a plan we will find moments when we shine.