A Learning Journey

Last week, a teacher sent me a ‘thank-you-for-taking-a-chance-on-me’ kind of message. It’s been five or six years since we’ve worked together and he commented on how much he has changed as a teacher since his first experiences in the classroom.

When I think back to my first years in this profession, I shudder. I wouldn’t say that I was ineffective but I was certainly not as effective as I am now. In many ways, the first few years of a teacher’s classroom life could be considered survival.

Teaching is complicated, challenging, and complex. We must learn how to interact with students, how to engage them, how to plan effectively, and bring that plan to life during instruction. We must learn to monitor and assess student understanding and provide effective feedback. We must learn how to accommodate the wide range of academic, social, and emotional needs in our classrooms. We must learn how to communicate with parents: parents of all backgrounds, perspectives, and temperaments. We must also learn to be supportive and sensitive to the many life experiences and challenging circumstances so many of our students face.

So yes, teaching is complex; it is also exhilarating, exciting, and wonderfully rewarding. We cannot expect anyone to walk into the classroom during their first years and immediately be able to juggle the many balls in the air trying new tricks all the while.

Teaching is a journey. The best teachers learn from those around them, take time to reflect, make adjustments to their practice, and understand that their own learning is never finished.

Taking a chance on a new teacher – necessary! We’ve all been there, after all.

Breaking Barriers

Last night we saw The Tempest at the Citadel Theatre. This was not a typical Shakespearean experience, however. In addition to the rain through much of the performance and the inclusion of lines from other plays, the dialogue was both signed and spoken by a combination of deaf and hearing actors. The play was not signed at the side of the stage as you may have seen in other circumstances. No, the American Sign Language was very much a part of the play itself.

Watching these actors break through barriers with each other and with the audience got me thinking about the students in our classrooms. Some don’t have full access to our teaching because of a language barrier, a disability, or even the challenges presented by the printed word.

How can we try to understand the limitations they feel and obstacles they face? What can we do to support them on their learning journeys?

Sometimes the accommodations are significant. But often, the changes aren’t complicated and the adjustments, fairly minor. And yet, what a difference for our students. When we are intentional about providing supports for our students who may fall outside the norm, all students benefit. Universal design at its best.