I love teaching. In fact, I can’t imagine doing anything else. The year after college I worked as a data entry clerk for a large corporation. I was working as a temp while looking for teaching positions, and when the company offered me a full-time job, I took it. It was late July and bills needed to be paid. It wasn’t the ideal job, but I learned some valuable lessons. To start with, I learned to be pretty fast at 10-key – a trait that used to amaze my fifth graders when I would average grades, eyes on the grade book and hands flying on the calculator. 🙂 More importantly, I learned that I was not cut out to do a job which offered very little variety day-to-day. My theory is a bad day at school is better than a good day doing data entry.
That’s not to say I don’t get frustrated with teaching. Some of the frustration is aimed at rules and regulations that come down from the powers that be; often people with no education background; people who somehow think that all children are exactly the same. Sometimes the frustration is with families who don’t seem to value children and education like I do.
If I let it, that frustration can turn my focus away from what is important: meeting the needs of my students. Sometimes I have to step back and identify the things I can control and let go of the ones I can’t.
I can’t change education policy by myself. I can voice an opinion, contact my representatives, support education friendly candidates, and practice my constitutional duty to vote, but the wheels of bureaucracy move slowly. While I work to change things I see as unjust, I have to work within the boundaries of those policies.
I can’t control what happens at home. Sometimes there are factors that influence how students perform within the classroom – absentee parent, divorce, homelessness, and hunger, to name a few. Knowing those things may help me decide how to reach out to a student, but I can’t allow it to define who the student is. I have a moral responsibility to report abusive or dangerous behaviors, and I have an ethical responsibility to not project my values onto other families.
So, what can I control? I can control the atmosphere in the classroom. Granted students bring a lot to the table, but how I interact and react sets the tone. I can choose to make it a safe place for learning and thinking. I can control my day-to-day interactions with students. If I know a student is struggling, how I respond to that need is totally up to me. I can ask for help/support from administrators and other teachers. Education is about collaboration, and if someone has an idea that works, I want to know about it. I can control how well prepared I am. An occasional fly by the seat of your pants moment happens, but to be effective, I need well thought out plans. Most of all, I can control my attitude. I can turn any situation into a positive or a negative by how I let it affect my teaching and my interactions with students.
The bottom line is this: I can only control things that originate with me. Everything else is outside my circle of control.