I have survived my first three weeks of student teaching. Lunchtime, recess, and bus duty are finally becoming less overwhelming and more part of a routine. I am beginning to teach subjects and getting to know the students well. I only have one fear: I think I’m becoming a kindergartner. I didn’t notice the symptoms until one night last week. I am taking two math classes in the evenings in addition to my student teaching which makes for some long days. While sitting in the second hour of my geometry class, I found myself whimpering to my table partner as we worked on a problem,
“It’s too hard! I can’t do it.”
I was tired, my brain was moving in slow motion, and the task in front of me felt insurmountable. But I had to stop and laugh at myself. Earlier that same day, I’d been working with a student who had said the same thing to me with tears running down his small face.
I was helping him to write three sentences in his journal, and I’d been tempted to laugh. It seemed like such an easy task to me. But for him, it felt insurmountable, just like the geometry problem felt for me at the end of a long day. The good news is, we both accomplished our goals. Both of us felt ill equipped for the tasks before us, but both of us were pushed and discovered untapped mental resources. Because we were challenged, we grew.
That’s the most exciting part of student teaching so far: seeing my students rise to the challenge. I enjoy setting the bar high and watching students fly over it. But this is the area in which my still being a student has also benefited me the most.
Learning is all about stretching the limits of the mind, and it can sometimes be a painful process. The further removed we are from the process, the less we can sympathize with the frustration when we feel a task is beyond our abilities. That’s why I was thankful for that moment of clarity and humor in geometry. I knew exactly what my student had been feeling, and that sympathy better equipped me to help him and other students the next time. As teachers, we must challenge our students but also provide them with the support they need to accomplish given them. The hard part is finding a balance between supporting them and letting them learn to think for themselves.
Each student needs support in different ways and at different times. I know this fact is old news to anyone who has been in the classroom for an extended period of time, but this is the part that overwhelms me. As I am just learning the basic rhythms of the classroom and a few tricks to get through to some of the students, I cannot imagine the day when I can differentiate for twenty-three individuals. But differentiation is a vital part of part of any classroom that is going to equip its students well. I want it to be a part of mine.
For now, I live on both sides of the classroom: teacher by day, student by night. I want to take advantage of this unique position while I have it and learn as much as possible. I want to hold on to this sympathetic understanding for as long as possible. So even though it worries me, I’ll embrace my transformation into a kindergartner for now. Especially if it includes nap time.