Week 8: Bleeding Openly [Am I A Bad Teacher?]

“I can’t. I just can’t.”

After class on Thursday, I started to strongly reconsider why I wanted to do this project I’m having my students do. The premise is for them to understand operations with scientific notation by modeling the solar system. This went off mostly without a hitch last year and I got some of the most brilliant pieces I’d ever seen from students that the school usually expects less from. This year, I improved on it a bit and hope the results feel better.

This year, the students did do a model with me, and then they would do one on their own with different dimensions. While many of the groups have been up to the task, a few haven’t, and it’s required a little more out of me to push and insist. In a couple of groups, I’ve come close to pulling ears and cheeks … metaphorically, of course.

Is project-based learning all it’s cracked up to be or is it just me?

Most of my other colleagues have gone about their business without doing any projects and they seem cool as cucumbers while I’m pushing my students to complete this with a little more vigor. It’s critical that I remember the hard work of the many overshadows the misguided few. Then again, who’s guiding? What’s guiding? Is it me or am I fighting something learned from years prior and trying to push sails with my bare hands?

That’s why the discussion about bad teachers feels personal to me. I don’t consider myself a bad teacher, or incompetent, or ineffective, or any of the other adjectives that might suggest I don’t know what I’m doing. I am, however, still standing at the crossroads of experimentation. Taking risks when I don’t really have to don’t often feel like they pay off. I love seeing my colleagues try new things, work with new technologies, and explore their neighborhoods, but when I’m trying, I’m biting my nails more often than I feel I should. I’m meticulously looking for the right behaviors, the right triggers, the right questions.

Are the kids asking me too much? Am I being too helpful? Should I be more stern here, more forceful here, more relaxed here? Am I overthinking this? Probably.

Every year, I’m hoping that the times I’m a great teacher far outweigh the times I’m not as great, aiming for 100% of the time, though that might not be possible. I also hope that, by reflecting this openly, I can see what I’m doing that will sustain me for the decades to come in this work, and hopefully for people who follow me on this. Being a reflective practitioner in this day and age requires a lot more bleeding openly and hoping that your skin gets stronger with every bruising.

Does being a bad teacher mean you’ve accumulated enough bruises that you no longer feel them? I’m not sure, either.