As I locked up the school yesterday, I was beset with the feeling that I hadn't been a very good teacher. The whole day had felt "clunky" somehow. I never really got into a flow, the way I do when the "magic" is happening.
There was a time when I'd let an emotional response like this fester and pester me, but the older I get, the more I find myself thinking of my own emotions like I do the lights on the dashboard of my car: a warning that something needs to be tended to. Usually, it's just the little icon telling me I need to tank up, but on days like yesterday it's the "check engine" light, probably indicating something benign, like the gas cap isn't screwed on properly, but it could also mean it's time for a new car.
I've spent the last 18 hours noodling it over, not obsessively, but while stuck in traffic, shooting baskets, waiting for my daughter to get out of her rehearsal. I really want to go into Spring break next week with a dark dashboard. My Pre-3 parent educator Dawn Carlson and I talk a lot about our reflective practice as early childhood educators, about how it's important to find some time and some method for going back over each day to make sure we really understand what has happened.
Without going into too many details, here's what I've come up with so far . . .
The kids have been crazy for storytelling lately, jumping on me right from the start of each day, "When can we tell stories?" "When is it my turn?" "Am I on the list?" This is a great thing, no doubt, and my clipboard is thick with stories at this point. Not only that, but the "quality" of the stories is taking amazing leaps forward. For awhile there, they were all more or less telling the same story, pure silliness, random, and there's still some of that, but yesterday in particular I was struck by the length and variety of the stories. Perhaps even more impressive are the numbers of kids wanting to get on "the list."
Here's a pony named Glitter helping me read my ever-growing list of
And I think that's one of the big reasons I've been feeling out of sorts. For the first time in the history of Woodland Park storytelling, I'm having to make kids wait until the following day to tell their stories. There just hasn't been enough time in the day to get to all of them. And it's not just the length of the list, but the length of the stories, which means that I've been spending most of our mornings sitting in a single spot taking dictation.
Don't get me wrong, I love the time I spend down there in that circle of knees and hands and shoes . . .
. . . their steamy breath on my hands and cheeks . . .
. . . the way they knee-walk over to me when it's their turn, or when they just want to listen to the story their friend is telling . . .
. . . my clipboard on my knees as my hand cramps up while scrawling their stories as fast as I can in the necessary shorthand I've devised for the purpose.
All of this is a wonderful, wonderful part, perhaps the most wonderful part, of what I get to do each day, but . . .
Anyone who's seen me in class, knows that I'm a mover. I like to be part of everything that's going on, sticking my head in here, sticking my head in there. At any given moment, I usually know what kind of play is developing around the sensory table, our block area, the drama station, table toys. There's a meta-story in our day that I'm reading as I move from place to place, a luxury of the cooperative model, which puts a parent-teacher at each of those places, freeing me up to be where I'm most needed, helping the children make connections between this kind of play and that, or between this child and that, checking in with the parents to find out how they think it's going, what materials they might need, what support I can lend them. That's how I create my rhythm, my flow. And, frankly, I've always assumed that it's this practice of mine that has created the classroom's flow.
But this passion for storytelling has anchored me to a single spot now for several days.
It's a different way to be a teacher, one that doesn't feel right to me, even if, perhaps, there's nothing pedagogically wrong with it. The other stations, after all, are covered by parent-teachers who by now really know what they are doing. They don't need me. And the kids, by now, are totally capable of making the classroom work on their behalf, you know, like getting Teacher Tom to settle down and take dictation.
And while I'm unsure what happened in the rest of the classroom yesterday, I do know that good things were happening in my little corner of the room. For instance, Benjamin discovered that there were "Three little pencils to match the giant one."
He told me that the big one was longer and fatter, then showed me that the little ones were actually better for drawing.
And Violet made a pony roller coaster from Easter baskets, a theme that carried over into her story.
And a gang of girls spent a lot of time building sculptures from clothespins, specimen cups and other loose parts.
Not to mention the incredible storytelling taking place and the strategy game some of them have devised to try to make sure they are the "first storyteller" tomorrow.
Being pinned down like that has been hard for me, but when I really think about it, when I really reflect, I can't think of any signs that it's hard for the kids, which is the most important part. But maybe, just maybe, it's time for me to relinquish my control of the storytelling clipboard for a time, at least as an experiment, and let my incredible parent-teachers take it on.
That's going to be hard, but Teacher Tom needs to roam.