Leaving and Taking

As part of this morning’s improv activity, we were invited to think about what we would take away from the UNCC National Writing Project Summer Institute and what we would leave. I decided to use those categories for my reflection on SI.

What I’ll Leave

The feeling that if I don’t do it it won’t get done and that won’t be ok
The whole group video portfolio project feels like it’s consumed a big chunk of my thoughts over the past several days. It’s reminded me what an incredibly complex kind of text a video can be. Even a six minute video has required hours of work spread across a number of people. At some point, I started to feel responsible for the video and simultaneously frustrated that I didn’t feel like I had the right tech (in this case a Mac) to make it happen the way I’d hoped. In the past, I might have pushed through anyway, volunteering to finish the project anyway. Instead, I talked with other people who were working on the project and we figured out a way to share the load some. (Many props to Laura, who ended up pulling the final cut together.)

The feeling that I’ve somehow escaped “having” to teach writing because I teach history
Last year when I was teaching all history classes for the first time, I breathed a sigh of relief when I realized that I was no longer going to be a “writing teacher.” In some ways this was really freeing, but it also meant that I didn’t work as hard to find creative ways for my students to connect to the material through writing. Many of the demos over the course of SI have given me ideas for writing in different ways as a part of history class. Next year I get to teach writing as part of history class.

A sour taste in my mouth for tech
Over the past year, I’d been really wrestling with my use of digital tech in the classroom, or lack thereof. Tech had started to feel like just a shiny toy, rather than a useful tool. Being able to incorporate tech in useful ways in my demo at SI and seeing the use of tech in others’ demos reminded me of the joy that I used to find in using technology with students.

The sense that all writing has to be directed toward an end product
I’m a goal-orientated person who doesn’t like to feel like I’m wasting effort. I want my writing to be directed toward something- a blog post, an article, even a tweet. I sometimes feel that if writing doesn’t end up in some publishable or shareable form, it’s not worth doing. The sheer amount of writing that we’ve done over the course of the Institute means that there’s no way that it could all make it into a form that makes sense to share. It’s been freeing, though, to let those scraps be.

What I’ll Take Away

A reminder that good teaching requires careful planning to look effortless and create space for messiness
Prepping for my demo reminded me that really good lessons create space for the surprising to happen, but that space requires careful thought to ensure that things don’t get chaotic or seem haphazard. This will be the first year in my teaching career that I’ll be teaching the same classes as I taught the year before. (Yay!) I’m hoping that not having to be in “just one step ahead of the students” mood will allow me to spend some more time thinking about how I craft space for student learning and inquiry.

A reminder of how much I love learning
I’ve heard it said that some people become teachers because they don’t ever want to leave school. Guilty as charged. I don’t see this as a bad thing though. My love of school isn’t about being a sage on the stage or a power trip. It’s about getting to have the opportunity to learn alongside students, to curate sources to pique their curiosity, and to help them ask good questions. It was fun to get to be get to be a student in the formal sense again.

Gratitude for thoughtful, passionate teachers
Throughout the SI, I’ve been impressed by the skill and dedication, both of the Teacher Consultants facilitating the Institute and the other participants. In a country where the media and politicians sometimes portray teachers as lazy and ignorant, it’s been a privilege to work and learn with people who are the diametric opposite of that portrayal. It’s also been fun to have the opportunity to “talk shop” with people who care as deeply about issues of teaching and learning as I do. I’m deeply grateful for the experience and for those who encouraged me to pursue it.

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5 thoughts on “Leaving and Taking

  1. I, too, have been impressed by the other teachers at SI. I wish people who ascribe to the saying “those who can’t do, teach” would listen to the types of conversations we have had over the last 12 days. We may be tired, but we’re not lazy. We may lose our inspiration, but we’re not ignorant. We are a group of people who really care about learning–ours and others. I think where I’m left at this point is with a slight feeling of dread. I don’t want anyone to burst this bubble we’ve created.

  2. I really appreciate the candor with which you delve into these issues and how personal they are for you. I’ve struggled with the use of technology, as well, b/c sometimes it feels like we’re using it just to use it, not for an important purpose. Your demo really helped me see it integrated and useful.

    I like your boldness to conquer the teaching of writing in your classroom. I really don’t think writing should be isolated only in English classes. And now you have an entire community to consult, gain encouragement from, glean ideas from, and feed into. I love how diverse all of our experiences and ideas are.

    I do am a control freak/finisher/polisher. This has been a great experience to remember that sometimes there are things more important than creating a final product (and doing so at the sacrifice of other things).

    I’m glad to have you as part of my community and support network now. Hope we can continue to collaborate as time goes on. Who knows, I’ll probably have lots of tech questions as the semester wears on :P

  3. I can relate to what you wrote about having a sense of freedom, in not feeling the pressure to publish all writing. I also feel the freedom in letting go of formal grammar instruction, required student participation, and always having to find a resolution from a chosen inquiry. I love this freedom.

  4. I’m really drawn to the idea of “crafting a space of learning” I think this is one of my favorite things about teaching. As a kindergarten teacher I moved tables and rugs and shelves around in the room for hours. (Block center would be perfect in the middle of the room!) I spent summers thinking about possible schedules. Now I do those things for teaching FYW by figuring out how our online spaces could work and by plotting the scaffolding of course assignments. And of course all of those things end up being in the moment more about sharing the load (as you describe in thinking bout video making :) with my students and colleagues. #hardtoletgo #newideasemerge

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