After my last reflection, I truly feel like I am starting to find my place in the classroom. I have noticed I was putting so much pressure on myself to be the authoritative figure, that I was beginning to lose part of myself in the process. There are a lot of pressures that come with being a new teacher that I don't think are discussed enough. There are a lot of uncertainty and self-confidence issues that occur. This can be anywhere from how my voice sounds, how loud I speak, how MUCH I have to talk during class, what I wear and how I can make it align with my quirky personality while being professional, and how to share myself/my identity with my students without sharing too much. I want my students to like me, of course, but I feel there often is so little time in the day to soak up one another and just enjoy being in the classroom together. Times are hectic!!
I've really enjoyed giving the students a good chunk of independent work time during class so that I could begin to have deeper conversations with them--maybe those conversations are about their projects, maybe not. (Side note: making their projects personal and partially choice based has seriously given me so much insight about them) Right now, students have SO MUCH on their plate. I want people to know that. I had a really interesting conversation with a student the other day; I actually lost track of time and dismissed my kids with 3 minutes remaining, but it all worked out and was worth it. We discussed the impact that COVID-19 has had on them personally and on their peers. The student noticed at the beginning of the pandemic, they were finally able to commit time in the day for self care. This is so important and I really related to that. Not every career or lifestyle feels like it allows for that, but in being forced to take care of yourself it was obvious that a priority was being left out in the hustle of just *living*.
This student in particular faces challenges with both depression and ADD, so that dedication to taking care of themself was extremely important. But then there was a shift, students went back to school. For months, these young people were confined in their homes with little contact with people other than their family members. Also remember, not everyone has the perfect home life...many don't. Both factors impacted tons of kids and continues to shoot down their confidence and ability to make their own decisions in school and life. Although many students were eager to return to school + see their friends, over time a theoretical + seemingly insurmountable brick wall was built in front of them. These young adults have fallen so out of practice being social that returning to school was initially exciting but many are facing EXTREME social anxiety. To some, this feeling is nothing new. In this student, they were used to it; some of my friends, they were used to it and have reflected on their coping skills from the past to try to adjust again. However, there are many kids who have not felt this extreme mental detriment before. My student said they noticed many of their peers had turned to medication in a frantic attempt to feel normal again. They were saddened to see the lack of education about holistic methods or coping mechanisms, before resorting to medication. To the student, that was their last resort. They had been through the battles of holistic approaches and came to medication as a last resort. I felt the student's analysis of what was happening around them was beyond my expectation. I knew students were having a hard time...but did I know it was this bad? If so, why didn't I know?
This student really brought to light a lot of issues to me. I often separate myself from my students as if we experience life completely differently. But ultimately at the end of the day we are in the same wormhole with this pandemic and life in general. My point is, I need to lean on the fact that these students are not kids. They are adults. They know the difficulties of life in varying ways--and being aware of that will allow me to best support them and even learn from their battles. I always hated when teachers had a "god-complex" or acted like they had life "all figured out". This simply is not the case and only pushes you farther away from your students. I'm not going to pretend I know how to face a global pandemic + I don't want my students to pretend either. So in the past few weeks, the biggest take-aways for me have been:
In just being open, honest, talkative + kind I have grown relationships with my students that bring me to tears. I already see students coming out of their shells again. I had to redirect the chat on our virtual meeting the other day and I was so EXCITED to have some energy in the classroom, virtual or not. One student even volunteered to always have her camera on to encourage others to do the same. I always tell them I love seeing their faces. I think we all know that reconnecting after being confined, as if we were bound in a padded room, has been really detrimental and we are all struggling and yearning for that social connection. I have cried out of empathy for those struggling, painstakingly trying to figure out how I can just... *fix everything*. That is SO hard. I'm trying to figure out how to make things normal again. My goal is to dedicate even MORE time talking to my students and finding ways to build them back up. I try to begin each day being kind, accommodating, and encouraging--because I know that is what I need too.
I've had three students ask how long I was going to be at Fossil to which I replied, the end of February (which is coming up fast) and they responded, "What? No. We wish you could stay here forever". This was insane to hear. I wondered how I had impacted them this way already and still ponder it to some extent. The student I had the conversation with above ended by telling me, "I just want you to know that I like you and I think you're cool. My sister is student teaching for college and I hear the challenges she's faced at the end of the day and I hear how hard it can be. But you're cool." Despite the challenges my students are facing, one thing they haven't lost sight of is empathy + compassion.
The love you give is the love you get.
I am working toward completing my weaving, combining my experiences from the first few weeks to the last. This has been a great way to reflect on my growth and see beauty in the awkwardness of finding my identity as a teacher. I have chosen to incorporate more colors and shapes, representing individual students. There are portions of black yarn showing the uncertainty and trauma of COVID-19 and its impact on students, teachers, families, etc. The curtains of blue are the overwhelming emotions that can often cover or "blur" other areas. But ultimately at the end of the day, it is not the challenges of the pandemic that are at the forefront of my mind but my students. As I have gotten to know them and discover their glimmering personalities, I've been overwhelmed with gratitude to spend this time with them. This tapestry will hang on my wall and the legacy of their strength, perseverance and love will stay with me forever. The spider plant growing within the cradle of my tapestry will further remind me of the ways I have adapted and grown throughout this time, and will continue to do so.
This blog thread is a synopsis of my experience student teaching during the final semester of my senior year, fulfilling the last service credit hours of my art education degree. I fulfilled the first eight weeks of my placement at Fossil Ridge High School, with Chelsea Ermer as my mentor. The final eight weeks of my placement were fulfilled at Coyote Ridge Elementary school, with Staci Sandelin as my mentor. I have completed a series of written reflections accompanied by physical art works which relate to the written portion of each post.