Reflective Practice Challenge 3: Describing a Moment

It has taken me while to think of a moment that I wanted to use for the most recent RP challenge as set out by John Pfordresher

Think about a negative interaction you have had in your classroom. Not an entire lesson, but a single interaction that occurred between you and someone else (a student, another teacher, a parent, etc).

Perhaps a student was sleeping in class, or being disruptive or inattentive. Perhaps we, the teacher, reacted to a specific stimuli in an unhelpful way. Maybe someone walked in on a lesson and caused a negative disruption to us or our students.

Our task today is to take this negative interaction and describe it. It is important that we describe and describe only.

I have chosen a moment, but I will say up front, I did not follow John’s instructions. Please read David Harbinson, Anne Hendler, and Hana Ticha’s (first and second post) descriptions. They followed John’s instructions wonderfully, and I highly recommend clicking on their links. Their descriptions describe those raw moments of vulnerability that make teaching one of the scariest and most exhilarating professions out there. 

What I have decided to do instead is change the word “negative” into “challenging”, and the interaction will be less about a learner and I sharing words or actions, but more of me observing an interaction between two teacher-trainees that gave me pause. It is a moment that is significant to me and my future work with teachers, and so I need this space to learn more about what is going on and what I can do in the future. It is a moment that I face each semester.

Apologies in advance for the length. This description is reminiscent of my graduate study days. The more the better seemed to be the motto back then.

Setting up the description:

This was the second time I heard him/her share this story in 24 hours. The first time was during his/her entrance interview. And to add more depth to why I chose this moment, I heard him/her share this story two more times in the following 12 hours. I had only met him/her 24 hours before the moment I am going to share with you.

The description:

Learning my students
Learning my students

It was the first full day of classes and this moment happened during the last class of the day. The teachers had just done a gallery walk where they discussed various famous quotes about learning and teaching. After this 15 minute small group discussion, I asked the teachers to finish the following sentence on a piece of paper: I want to be a teacher who… because… After finishing their sentences, they shared with their partner.

I wanted them to do this for two reasons. One reason is that the course is about learning different strategies and approaches to teaching. I wanted to give them the space to articulate what this might look like for them. By writing this sentence, they can start thinking about why they are in our course, and also start taking the steps to become that teacher. The other reason I wanted to do this was to give them the space to share their hopes and challenges. By sharing these sentences with someone else, they may start feeling part of a community. They came to the course alone, and it is important to their development as teachers that they don’t feel alone during the course. This is a description of my thought process for the activity.

As two teachers were sharing, I heard one (Teacher A) say to the other (Teacher B), “I never wanted to be a teacher. I was forced to be a teacher by my father.” Teacher B listened attentively and asked questions. I couldn’t hear exactly what Teacher B was asking, but I could see that she/he was facing Teacher A and looking at him/her with openness. Teacher B’s arms were not crossed but at his/her side, with one arm leaning on the desk. He/she looked at Teacher B in the eyes the way a friend does when they are listening to you share something that is difficult. When Teacher A spoke, Teacher B nodded and looked at Teacher A.

At one point, I heard Teacher A say, “I am in this course because I almost quit last year. I have a family and I can’t quit.” I’m not sure when he/she said this. And I’m not sure how Teacher B responded. It was hard to hear details with 14 other teachers talking, and I also didn’t want to intrude on their personal exchange.

As I walked around, my mind went to Teacher A. I felt worried about him/her. I wondered how he/she would behave in the course. Would he/she be up for all the tasks ahead? I wondered how he/she would impact the other teachers. Would he/she bring them down? I wondered what he/she needed from me and the other trainers, and what I could give back without spending all my energy. I felt nervous because this was the second time I heard him/her say this and I thought he/she might need a lot of care and I wondered if I was ready for the possible task.

The pair discussions lasted about 15 minutes. During this time, I walked a bit in the middle of the classroom (16 teachers sitting at 16 individual desks set up in a horseshoe shape) or stayed at the front. It was hard to walk around the class because there were extra desks and the class wasn’t accommodating much more. I could hear bits and pieces of what everyone was sharing. Everyone looked engaged as I didn’t see any pair sitting silently. Everyone was sharing something, or at least listening to someone share.

Once the discussion was over, I thanked them for sharing some challenging stories as well as their hopes, and then we moved on to looking at what the course might offer them by looking at a list of course objectives.

As I reread the description, I’m curious to know how the rest of the challenge will go. It doesn’t feel like a juicy description where I can dig in deep. No one was behaving badly or in a way that brings up thoughts of classroom management or lesson design in the classical sense. However, I know I have a lot to learn from this. Perhaps it isn’t the moment itself, but the symbolism of the moment that means more to me. But I shouldn’t go to this place yet. I’ll save that for challenge No. 4.

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Previous posts I’ve written on the topic of description:

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17 thoughts on “Reflective Practice Challenge 3: Describing a Moment

  1. I didn’t mean to seem unsupportive. I like it when resistance is clear–it makes my work of being supportive easier because I can see what we (the student and I) are dealing with.
    I was thinking of “Teacher A” in comparison with someone who comes to class, keeps his/her jacket on, doesn’t speak and sits near the door. I can see there is a problem, but have to do some more work to figure out what it is.

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    1. Hello Kate and Scott,

      Kate, first I wanted to thank you for helping bring clarity to your comment in light of Scott’s. Knowing your blog and the topics you write about, I don’t think you were being unsupportive, but that you were making a comment about the possible challenges ahead.

      When I chose to describe this moment, it was because I saw it as something I wanted to care for. I see great sadness in this statement. Sure, not everyone loves their jobs, but knowing how much I love mine, and how it is even hard for me to stand in front of students sometimes, I really feel for these teachers. It takes courage to teach, and I think it takes even more courage to teach when we don’t want to be a teacher. Although the contexts are very different, it makes me think of Chuck Sandy’s recent iTDi post http://itdi.pro/blog/2014/03/07/more-whole-teacher-chuck/.

      Thank you so much for your care and comments!

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  2. Josette, thank you very much for sharing this moment. Like Hana, I think that it ‘meets the challenge’ of the task, and I like how you changed the wording into ‘challenging’ situation (actually I am doing the same in mine) I guess I am familiar with the context you are talking about: when teachers choose a job not because it is their calling, or childhood dream, or anything like that, but for a number of other reasons. This choice, and the job itself, never become easier though. And when such teachers join a teacher training course, it is often not their choice either (although the teacher you described seemed to have made a decision to join the training, if I got it right) Wow, I would love to read more about this in your future posts. I guess I agree with Scott, we need to be supportive, but I also wondering if there is anything else, more than that, which we can do? Something like this old well-known saying: ‘We can’t make a horse drink, but we can bring it to the water. And… can we make it thirsty?’ Thank you for your posts – they bring light and smile to me. Sometimes a thoughtful smile, if such thing exists :-)

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    1. I really appreciate the empathy here Zhenya, for me and for the teacher. I agree with you and Scott. Support is key. No doubt there. They have come to the course for some healing, and that, I feel I can provide. When I first started training here, I didn’t realize that was my biggest role, but after 4 years, I realize that giving them the space to heal from their busy and often overwhelming teaching lives is probably the best way I can lead the lead the horse to water. After all, as I have written in my compassion posts, how can we move forward and care for others if we don’t have the chance to care for ourselves? In the end it is less important that they love teaching, and more important that they loves themselves. What comes from that realization is up to them. I’ll write more about that later though. :) Thanks for helping me get started on that post!

      And thank you for your comments! They always make me smile. :) And I totally understand the concept of a thoughtful smile because your comments make me do the same. As do you posts. :) I also want to thank you for being patient with my replies.

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  3. It depends upon so many factors as to whether this student will be able to keep going when the going gets tough.
    I am interested to know whether they have had any practical experience of teaching yet. This is usually a bit of a litmus test as to whether a person has ‘what it takes’ to be someone who can relate well to their students and persevere with themselves, with tasks, with challenging situations and with the untold demands of our profession. It is not for the half-hearted.
    Sometimes we don’t know what we can do until we try. We don’t know what we enjoy until we experience it.
    I wonder, does this person like people, and in particular young people? If they don’t their students will know it and it could be all the more difficult for them to be in this profession.
    Thanks again Josette. Enjoyable reflections.

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    1. Hello Anne,

      Thank you so much for commenting so quickly after I posted. I wanted to reply sooner. :)

      As I read your comment, I realized that I may have missed a vital point in my description. The teachers who come to the course are experienced teachers. They need to have taught for at least 5 years in order to get in. I think this person has more than 5 years experience, but this is something I definitely should be more clear about. You bring up another great question, do they like people? From my observation of the way they got along with others in the program, I would have to say yes, but then again, I didn’t hear it directly from them.

      Thank you for spurring on some more thinking here. Somethings I would want to know more about this teacher is if it is the actual classroom, or all the responsibilities around being a teacher that is a challenge. The term “teacher” is wrapped up in so much. Maybe the first step is to define what a teacher means to them.

      Thanks again Anne!

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  4. Very interesting post. I can imagine your feelings watching this interaction going on. I too am curious to see how it plays out.
    I like your bit of “rule-breaking” here. It reminded me that we don’t live in a black and white world where everything is either positive or negative. I find myself prey to these dichotomies and easily forget that there is a whole lot that goes on in between and that I have no need to label things as good or bad.

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    1. I appreciate your support of my “rule breaking.” I wasn’t sure about it because when I read this description it was hard for me to imagine writing a solid analysis. Of course I already have something in mind because I have already gone to the action plan stage and back to experience with this, but each semester it’s just a bit different. It’s a perpetual ELC. More than any other experience I have. Or at least this is the one I seem to latch on to. Most often I feel helpless, but I want to try a different approach.

      It’s so easy to do this “I find myself prey to these dichotomies and easily forget that there is a whole lot that goes on in between and that I have no need to label things as good or bad.” What a beautiful way to put it Anne. I reminds me Robert Augustus Masters’ work: http://www.amazon.com/Emotional-Intimacy-Comprehensive-Connecting-Emotions/dp/1604079398 There are no good or bad feelings. They all serve a very valuable purpose. Thank you for making my intention even more than I intended. :) If that makes sense. It makes sense to me. <3

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  5. Hi Josette. I like how you have approached this challenge, and find that I was able to relate to the situation and feelings/thoughts you described. I have encountered a few students over the last few years who have said similar things, albeit in a different context, (such as I don’t like English, I don’t want to study English, etc.) and found myself thinking/worrying about that student and how he/she is going to fit into the class. I’ll reserve my judgement and analysis of how I dealt with those students for later, and am looking forward to your comments in challenge 4.

    I do have one question about your teaching context; Is it mandatory for the teachers you train to attend your course, or are they there of their own choice? (I feel that I have read about this elsewhere on your blog, but I don’t quite remember).

    -David

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    1. Hello David,

      It is reminiscent of student reactions to learning English isn’t it? Thank you for making that connection. It puts things into a larger cultural context. Education seems to revolve around “force” rather than “choice”. It’s interesting to note the effects that this may have down the line as my “teacher” here was once a student. Is it a vicious cycle with no end? How does it stop? Maybe questions too big for this post. ;)

      And most of the teachers who come to our program want to come. It isn’t mandatory like the 3-week summer training courses where they are, again, forced to come. So the teachers in our program are generally happy to come because they get to have 6 months off from work where they can just focus on themselves. It can be a huge relief. I’m grateful for that because my job would be extremely challenging if it were the otter way around.

      Thank you for your input David! Hope to see you at the RP-sig meeting this Sunday!

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  6. Intriguing, Josette. First of all, it was very clever of you to avoid the mention of the sex of the teacher. Secondly, I don’t really think you didn’t follow John’s instructions. I’ll try to explain why. Like you, I would also have felt a little worried in the situation you described. Although the teacher’s/student’s past and present have nothing to do with us, we definitely feel a huge responsibility for what comes next. So I’d say that although we can’t change the past, by changing the present state of affairs (how a student feels about learning/course/school), we can dramatically affect the future. This can be a real challenge and a big source of anxiety. Well, I’m curious to see how go about the analysis.

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    1. Dear Hana,

      Thank you so much for your input. It really helped ease some concerns I had.

      Yes, I wanted to keep the gender neutral as well as the time of this event. It took me while to post this because I was worried about the privacy of my teacher-trainees. Since this moment isn’t completely unique, I thought I would save the privacy by using this strategy.

      I really connected to what you wrote here, “by changing the present state of affairs (how a student feels about learning/course/school), we can dramatically affect the future.” This is it isn’t it? This can be a turning point for this teacher. Although the full weight of the matter doesn’t rest on their experience during the course, there is no doubt that it has an effect. The way I run my course is to help teachers understand themselves better as teachers and people in the world. With all the critical thinking and introspection that they do, a shift is bound to occur in one way or another.

      My analysis may take a while to come forward. I appreciate your curiosity and will do my best to satisfy it. :)

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    1. I don’t feel that “Teacher A” was being “resistant” at all. It is like saying “I have cancer and I don’t know what to do.” Where is the resistance? Not wanting your job but being unable to up and quit is called… Normal. It is true for at least 2/3rds of people in the USA, maybe even more. It was true for me for a long time, more than once. Just because it is a profession that WE like and support does not change the circumstance of being compelled. I have seen people in other circumstances – no job, not wanting to do what they did before, no job, no idea what they want to do… etc. None of this is pleasant, or the result of laziness or resistance to anything, except being coerced by circumstances. Please show some empathy.
      The best thing to do is be supportive, so that we don’t add to the problem. One way or another, it will work out.

      Like

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