Author: Diana

Pressure to be Perfect

Suicide is such an extreme solution to what so many don’t see as a temporary problem most of the time. It is always shocking and so incredibly sad especially when the individual is young. There is an incredible amount of pressure in current American society to appear beautiful, intelligent, and fun, carefree and happy, to be able to “do it all.” The reality is that no one really has all of that. There are individuals who are driven to be successful, but they are not the same people who are carefree and happy. We all have strengths and weaknesses. As teachers, as parents, as anyone in authority or in a position of mentor or role model, it’s so important to be positive and to hold students to an expectation, but also to help them understand that they must make mistakes and that it is okay.

There is a video floating around social media of Rick Rigsby giving a speech at a college and he said, “I’m not worried that you’ll be successful; I’m worried that you won’t fail from time to time.” As someone who had to learn that failure is okay and reading the article about some of these young college students, I thought that this was really relevant. My dad is a perfectionist and although he loves his children very much, it was hard for him not to put that same pressure on us growing up. I knew when I was practicing the piano when he was home that he would hear every single mistake I made. Sometimes he would comment and sometimes he would make a noise or a face. Even if he didn’t, I knew he heard it. As a result, I practiced hours and hours trying to perfect pieces, but when I would perform, sometimes I would get so nervous that I would make mistakes anyway.

This continued through my adult life and whenever I played the piano, I knew that sometimes I would play according to my practicing, and sometimes I would just become so nervous that the notes would swim in front of my eyes or my hands would be sweating and shaking so bad I would mess up. It wasn’t until I started playing for the Soldotna Middle School choir director that I began to understand my problem and learned to become confident in who I was as a pianist. He had an expectation of excellence for his students and himself and everyone involved, but he also had a really great way of dealing with mistakes. He told his students that they would make mistakes, but to own them and to learn from them. He had a confidence in their ability that accepted them where they were, expected them to work hard to do their best, and taught them how to recover from mistakes. As a group, we have had to stop and start again because words were forgotten or the students moved to the wrong part of the song or something. If this was because the students were not focusing in practice, they have a discussion about it, with the students giving their opinions and thoughts about it all. Then they would move on and forward.

As an accompanist, I have made some pretty noticeable errors in playing from time to time, sometimes it is because I didn’t have much time to practice the songs and had to do my best, and sometimes I was just having a bad playing day. Musicians know that other musicians hear the mistakes. It’s just an ear thing. You can’t help it. Mr. Moore never berated me or stopped calling me to play. He had a confidence in my ability, appreciated my efforts, and shrugged off mistakes, jokingly saying things like, “Yeah, the rest of us NEVER make mistakes.” This helped me to be more relaxed when I played, which helped me to   make fewer mistakes and to enjoy what I was doing more.

I didn’t realize before working with Mr. Moore, that I needed to have permission to fail and understand that it wasn’t the end of the world. Getting a B in with all the A’s isn’t so bad. This is something I will try very hard to help my students understand. You will and should fail in life, because that is how we learn. You can not be perfect, and that is okay. Be yourself, not who others (including your parents) think you need to be.

I think it’s important to help students understand that they need to work hard and do their best, but they also need to take breaks, have fun, and try to figure out what works personally for them. It’s also good to have conversations with students and with parents when you as a teacher notice certain behaviors. Even if you think it won’t be acted upon, you have to do what you can to support and to guide.

Managing the Classroom

During my observations, I have had the opportunity to view and help out four different teachers, grades 7-9. Each teacher was a little different, of course, with two of the four having very organized classrooms. Several times, one of the teachers let me know that a particular class was larger and therefore more difficult to manage at times. They all preferred their smaller classes. The classes I observed were doing either lecture and seat work time, labs, or computer projects, so this included several types of transitions. I also got to be part of an ALICE intruder drill, so that was another one.

For coming in to the classroom, two of the teachers had specific things for the students to pay attention to. One had science starter questions that for one class dealt with their worksheets and for the other was a lab preparation question. Most of the students came in and worked on them, while a few took out their paper and then just talked to their neighbor. It did give the teacher something to direct the students to, as they came in or got too noisy. The other teacher changed her class seating arrangement once a month, so the students came in that day and looked at the smart board which had the pictures of each student in their new place. The students all figured out their new spots, some grumbling a little and some enjoying the change. Both of these things gave the students something to focus on right away as they came in, which compared to the classes that didn’t have them, focused the students on that class and its tasks.

For closing, one teacher had students put their computers away, after which a few started to stay clustered by the door. The teacher called them back to their seats, letting them know that she would dismiss them from their seats. They complied and she gave a little closing statement and then told them they could go. Two of the other teachers were finishing labs, so had students folding aprons, returning goggles, and turning in lab sheets before they could go. One teacher just allowed the students to begin to accumulate by the door and then they just started to leave when they chose to. I liked the idea of giving the students something to do or a dismissal. I will do both a starter activity and at least just have students wait to be dismissed at the end of class. I believe this creates a more organized and focused class. I especially like the starter questions that review the previous day’s lesson or introduce the new topic.

Transitions from class to lab work is common in a science class. During one of the lab classes, the teacher had one lab partner from each bench line up to get materials, and he also just had three benches go at a time. This way there was not a big line of students jumbling around trying to get their stuff and being in each other’s way. I thought this was very efficient and effective. Getting and putting away tablets or computers is also common in many classrooms. During the two classes that were working on computer projects, one of the teachers started out the class and gave them some basic instructions for the day, told them they would be getting their computers to work, and then told them to get certain things out and then get their computer when they were ready to get started on it. This way, the students were not all jumping out of their seats at once to get computers. At the end, the teacher reminded them to please make sure their computers were plugged in when they put them back, so they lasted the whole day. This worked well in her class, as students got up 2-5 at a time to line up and get their computer. Some students took a little longer to get all their stuff out and get organized, others got right to work.

Two different methods other than just speaking, were used to redirect attention to the teacher during class. One teacher started counting backwards slowly from three, holding his fingers up as he counted down. The students started to quiet down right away most of the time, one time he reminded them that by two they should be quiet and paying attention. The other teacher said, “If you can hear me clap once,” as she clapped. A chorus of claps followed and then the students looked at her and listened. One time, only one student clapped, so she said, “If you can hear me, clap twice,” and clapped twice. This time, several more claps were heard and she had the classes attention. This was at the end of class and several students were waiting to put their computers away so they were distracted. I liked the clapping thing because it was interactive, so that is something I might use in my classroom, or something similar.

The ALICE intruder drill was a big type of transition, but the students were aware it was going to happen in their last class period. When the announcement came on that there was an intruder and that he was downstairs, the upstairs class teachers opened their classroom doors and had the students quietly and quickly make their way down the hall, down a set of stairs, and outside onto the grass away from the building. The teacher followed the last student out and quietly reminded students who were talking that there was no talking as they left the building. This went quite smoothly and quickly, I thought. The teacher I was with was calm and level-headed, which transferred to the students, who walked together quietly and in a fairly organized fashion.

During my short observation time, I noticed that the teachers who used classroom management strategies had more organized classrooms that had a good feel when you walked in. The teacher was in control and the students worked better for those teachers. Those teachers who were really laid back and didn’t really use many strategies, I noticed that more students were goofing around and not really working in their classes. So, I think it’s a good idea to create boundaries and rules and procedures, so you have an organized classroom and the kids know what is expected of them.

Resilience and Mindfulness

Life happens everyday, and how we respond to it, ultimately shapes who we are as individuals. One important lesson I have learned in life is to forgive myself and others, to allow room for mistakes and keep moving forward. In the article, “What I Wish My Professors Had Told Me” the author discusses how to be resilient as a teacher. It includes keeping in mind the positive, while reminding yourself of your purpose as an educator, which is to guide students towards learning and thinking for themselves. I especially liked her reminder that no one is perfect, and being flexible with your lessons and your class is important. I certainly have a tendency to beat myself up when I believe that I have made a mistake, dwelling on what I should have done. I hope to create a classroom environment that is organized but flexible with plenty of room for making mistakes and learning how to move on from them. I especially want to equip my students with tools to help them manage their lives outside my classroom.

A great book for self-assessment in the area of emotional resilience and how we relate to our environment is  The Emotional Life of the Brain  by Richard Davidson. Davidson studies how our emotions and thoughts physically affect our brains. It’s really fascinating, and it correlates with the ideas in this article about staying positive, letting the negative stuff just roll off, and focusing on what is important and actually happening here and now.

The second article, “Let Care Shine Through” was a great reminder to be truly interested in the lives of students, to know what’s going on with them, and to give them tools to manage their lives. I think it’s really important to hold students to a standard of behavior and work, to teach them how to be organized and to meet them where they are at with reading or writing or whatever. If a teacher can learn to be creative and bring a lot of hands-on and applicable learning into the classroom, as well as supplemental reading at different levels, I think it becomes a more inclusive classroom. Probably the most important thing a teacher can do to help students and to know how to engage them in learning, is to get to know who they are and what is going on with them. I love the idea of personal surveys and simple silly questions that let you know who the students are and where their interests lie. I also thought it was creative and wonderful to help the student who was writing a nasty note, communicate in a more positive and beneficial way instead of just punishing or reprimanding her. It is so important to look beyond the obvious.

The link that I have posted correlates with both of these articles as well as the idea of mindfulness meditation which Richard Davidson is a major proponent of. The article is written by an educator who practices mindfulness in his classroom to help center students and also to teach them to be aware of their emotions and how to regulate them. I would love to incorporate this into my classroom. I often see students who are just filled with negative or confusing emotions and have no idea how to manage or deal with them. This is a great practice that will help them to be aware of what they are feeling and doing, and give them one way to deal with it positively.

Neuroscience and Personalized Learning

If we are going to change teaching to accommodate better learning, shouldn’t it be based on science? The first question asked in article was, “Why?” What is the reason for personalized learning? We live in such an individualistic culture, that creating even more self-centered thinking seems detrimental rather than beneficial. If educators are given the task of creating a global classroom that is inclusive of other cultures and thinking, what are we doing moving students into more individualized anything? The goal should be to help students to work collaboratively, as teams, and to work to strengthen their weak areas, not just do what comes easily. Learning should utilize as many senses and as much experience as possible. Personalized learning does the opposite. It narrows learning to one way and allows the student to choose. Most students are going to choose what they like and what comes easiest to them, but all this does is create more rigid neural networks, a brain that is not responsive to learning new and difficult things.

The brain loves short cuts. It will always do what comes easiest. In order create new networks, to learn, neural networks must be flexible to a certain extent. Many need to break a current connection in order to form a new one, and some will need to stay strongly connected. When we do the same thing all the time, the thing we like, the way we like it, we create strong connections in those neural pathways. Think about how you brush your teeth or eat everyday. Try to do it with a different hand or in a different way. It’s much harder, isn’t it? When we encounter something new to learn, it is at first difficult and hard. A very young child does this naturally, they focus on trying new things everyday. They work at learning. They are open to trying new things, and consequently they make millions of new neural connections.

The school that I have worked and observed in has a couple of teachers who have incorporated individualized learning. One teacher does it completely, she allows the students to sit wherever and however in the classroom and work in whatever manner they choose and then assesses them in that same manner. Another teacher does a more project-based learning class that allows a lot of student-directed learning with some teacher direction and input. The project-based class, I think is great, especially if the students have a class or two that are different like this, and then other classes that are maybe more traditional. The totally individualized class, is terrible, because in this the students are being catered to and their brains are not being stretched or strengthened. Learning should be interesting, and it can be fun, but it should not be easy. This creates a lazy brain. If a student has all their classes completely student-directed and individualized, what if they choose to lay on a couch and watch videos all day and to get assessed this way? What happens when they have to read some text in a report and analyze it? Write a report? What happens when they have to sit and listen and interact face-to-face in a meeting? What about when they have to read and perform in a science laboratory setting working with a partner? They will fail. They will not have created the necessary neural networks to aid them in these tasks.

The goal of education is to enable student learning. This is best done by keeping the brain guessing, working, and flexible. Utilizing many different types of experiences is the best way to educate. When a student comes into a class and doesn’t exactly know what to expect, the brain is alert. When each class is a little different, offering different ways of doing things, this is great. So maybe the individualization needs to be at the teacher level instead of at the student level! If a teacher wants to teach through project-based, place-based, experiential, lecture and demonstration, hands-on manipulation, real-world skills, etc., awesome. Students would go through the day having many different experiences and working different areas of the brain. They may like some and dislike others. That’s okay. I think the main problem in education is that many students just don’t have good home support and weren’t stimulated as a young child, so learning in general is difficult for them. These students need a lot of support, but it doesn’t help them to make it easy for them. All this type of teaching does is make the statistics look good because when we make learning easy and assessment easy, all the students “succeed,” but none are really “learning.”

DACA Issues

I don’t follow every little political happening in the news. In fact, I never watch the news because it is so full of bias, ignorance, and celebrity gossip that I can’t really deal with it. I was unaware of DACA before looking it up. It is indeed an extremely sensitive topic, I can see. In my opinion, we should not have laws that we are not able to enforce. So, if we have a law, it should be enforced, or it should be rescinded. That being said, obviously as a nation, immigration laws have not been enforced much or there would not be such great numbers of illegal immigrants. The problem has become convoluted and complex now.

A child who is brought illegally to a country by his or her parents/ relatives doesn’t really have a choice in being here. They do the best they can with the life they are given. I firmly believe that children should be with their parents if they have good parents. Therefore, if the children have parents in the country who are legal, they should automatically be given legal status. If the minor children’s parents are deported, I think the children should go with them.  I do think there should be special considerations for immigrants who arrived as minors and have lived in this country for a certain period of time and who are attending school or have been working steady jobs.

Because we have such an incredibly large number of illegal immigrants, it would certainly behoove the government to have a priority list of deportees. Those with criminal backgrounds and those without jobs should be the first to go. There are plenty of individuals who come into this country as legal immigrants following the proper rules and procedures. If those seem unfair, maybe some of those rules/regulations can be adjusted. As an example, I have to have a legal driver’s license and insurance to drive, and I get ticketed and prosecuted and even jailed if I don’t follow the rules of driving. I expect that to be the same for everyone else in this country. The rules apply to all, period. Some of the rules are a pain in my butt to follow, so I’m not really about to say, “Sure. I’ll follow the rules, but you don’t have to.” I know many immigrants who followed the rules and became legal citizens of this country, feel the same. They went through the work to do it right and so should everyone else. That is why I believe in personal responsibility, small government and few enforceable laws. It avoids big messes like illegal immigration in America. Here is an article that discusses DACA well: