Year-End Reflections: The Value of Mistakes in the Classroom
- Grades: 6–8
It seems like only yesterday that I was setting up my classroom during a blistering summer heat wave in August, placing each object in my room with the utmost care. I had so many ideas and hopes for the coming months, all of which I surely could pull off without a hitch. After all, I had painstakingly prepared “the perfect” lessons that would match each child’s learning style and ability. The stage was set for a flawless year filled with 21st century activities and precisely aligned Common Core standards. Each student that walked through my door had a similar plan: to get the best grades and stay out of trouble because this year would be different. I reinforced this idea on the first day by stating that everyone would begin with a clean slate, and that anything is possible with hard work and determination. What could go wrong?
What I forgot in all of my grand planning was that both teachers and students are human. We both have strengths and weaknesses, good and bad habits, and have lives outside school that often carry over into the classroom. I also neglected to acknowledge that no man is an island, and that we should all ask for help if we need it. Teaching can often be the loneliest job in the world, and students oftentimes experience that feeling themselves. I learned that this year after saying “yes” more often than I cared to and not asking for help until I was well above my stress limit. Similarly, many of my students neglected to seek out assistance until they found themselves in a grading time crunch. In addition, state assessments occur during the late spring months, creating months of stress and anxiety for all involved. Cumulatively, the stress is enough to make even the highest achiever feel defeated.
With the end of the year closing in, it is tempting to become discouraged by all of the things that you think you could have done better. Instead of dwelling on the negative, create a year-end assessment to serve as the basis for changes in the fall. Here are some common target points that are sure to speak to all teachers.
Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
This is good advice for both teachers and students. While it’s only natural to stack yourself up against your peers, it isn’t healthy to constantly make comparisons. At the beginning of the year, each teacher inherits a class full of unique individuals. It is impossible to know the struggles of your colleagues on a daily basis, and they are almost certainly unaware of yours. Therefore, success in the classroom can be gauged in many different ways. Whether it is an increase in homework production or elevated test scores, others' accomplishments should not be a mirror of your own worth.
As stated before, every year of teaching is different, and come September, we all start over again from step one. Now more than ever, our field is constantly evolving with universal changes to curriculum, and some may be experiencing a complete overhaul in regards to teaching evaluations. After speaking with many of my colleagues over the year, we unanimously felt the pressure of rising to the new challenges. However, it is important not to become scared or intimidated by things within our profession that we cannot change. If anything, use this opportunity to become more connected with your peers, and find ways as a group to tackle these new expectations.
Take It Slow
One way to avoid burnout or becoming overwhelmed is to take a broad look at any curriculum changes and then slowly incorporate the essentials over time. Since you may already be a master in certain areas, determine which curriculum standards you find most daunting and gradually make changes for the fall. You may even want to consider creating a professional learning community with other teachers who share similar struggles or the same vision for change. Seek them out, and take it slow! Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Now that the dust has settled, look over student data for the year. Are there any glaring omissions in curriculum or gaps in student achievement? It might be helpful to have linear grade level meetings to ascertain skills that need building upon for the fall and identify students that will struggle come September. This type of evaluation can also increase camaraderie amongst your peers, as it allows them to share the difficulties they faced throughout the year. And you thought you were the only one!
That being said, upon looking back, you will find that you went right more than you went wrong. Use the remainder of your time left in school to enjoy your students. There will be plenty of time over the summer for rejuvenation and invigoration. Relax . . . you’re almost there!