Some moments just stick with you–the flash of insight that marks a big change. A pivotal moment.
I am teaching Level 2 reading, and have passed out an interesting article from the West Coast Reader. Like many mornings, like many teachers, I start by introducing some words from the story that I think people may have trouble with. I write one of the words on the board, and as a group we read it, talk about its meaning, its pronunciation, its relationship to other words we know–you know the drill.
As I turn from writing the next word on the board, my eye falls on Bernice. She is not paying attention. I’m irritated. She, of all people, needs this work. When we get to the story she will stumble on these exact words and hold us up. Did I not do this prep precisely with Bernice in mind?
Underneath the irritation I am hurt. That may be too strong a word, but that’s the feeling. Bernice shows no respect for the work I put into preparing this lesson, the knowledge I bring to teaching reading, or the experience I have with students “exactly like her.”
My fingers tighten around the chalk. The muscles in my arms tense, ready to throw it. (Now where did I learn that teacher behaviour? Memories of my high school teachers.)
Voices of teachers past rise in my throat. Sarcastic: “Well, class, we’ll just wait until Bernice joins us, then we can go on.” Serious: “Bernice, pay attention here. This is important.” Sensitive: “Bernice, would you read this next one for us?”
All this flashes through me in the instant I turn from the board. I take a closer look at Bernice. What is she doing? While I am trying to teach her to read, Bernice is…reading!
I had to laugh. I laughed at the incongruity of it all. I laughed at myself.
If Bernice had been texting a friend or cleaning her nails or doing her math homework, I would never have noticed that my reaction to her inattention was all about me, my work, my feelings. But she was reading, I had to laugh, and the laughter cleared my hurt and irritation.
I relaxed and was able to see what was in front of me: Maybe my strategy of introducing new words had got too predictable. Maybe Bernice was a better reader than I thought. Probably she needed to learn and practice some student skills around classroom behaviour. For sure she needed a lesson in how to manage her teacher better. Food for thought, and enough questions to keep me from being bored!