Monday, June 23

On Teachers and Slowing Down this Summer

Last week I went on a three day retreat as part of the Minnesota writing project course I'll be taking in July. I met 20 some wonderful teachers from around the Twin Cities and greater Minnesota at a lovely retreat center nestled amidst the forests and plains of southern Minnesota.

A few things I noticed that teachers do when they're together on vacation:

Recommend books to each other.
Swap strategies and lesson plans in way that somehow blends so smoothly into genuine conversation that you'd never guess they were "talking shop".
Drink wine around a campfire quoting The Princess Bride and Monty Python (I'm not kidding!).
Discuss the merits of teaching various Shakespeare plays and quote their favorite scenes.
Offer all kinds of help and words of encouragement to new teachers.
Discuss working conditions and how to grade papers more quickly.
Share funny/touching student stories and most embarrassing teacher moments.
Appreciate nature and moving slowly.
Eat lunch very very quickly and then laugh about how quickly they're used to having to eat during the day.
Refer to "my kids" or "my students" all the time-- "my kids would love that!", "my students would never do that", etc.
Ask insightful questions.
Listen to each other.

Overall it was a wonderful experience and I'm excited for our class together in July. Teachers really are the best people. It is so nice to be around people who've chosen teaching as a lifelong career. They have a much different perspective on things than TFA in general. I was thinking about the differences especially as the new 2008 TFA corps is currently in Houston midway through what is often fondly (or not so fondly) described as "teacher boot camp". The emphasis there is on relentlessness and data driven results.

So for this summer it is a nice change of pace to move at a slower pace and narrow in on one aspect of teaching. It's nice to talk to veteran teachers and hear from them that everything really didn't click for them until year three or year five. They talk about how they've refined their practice over the course of years and years of trying various techniques as they keep up with new trends but blend them with their own experience. Quite a departure from TFA's "continually increasing effectiveness" which is supposed to happen from week to week or day to day or minute to minute. It's hard to find time to reflect or get a big picture when you're working with days of experience instead of years.

I should insert, at this point, that my mindset right now is also being influenced by Chelsea and Alexis's book club pick of the month that I'm reading called, "In Praise of Slowness". I would not say that it is an especially outstanding book, or necessarily recommend it. But I am thinking a bit more now about slowness in my life. I've always been a fairly slow person and been quite contented be that way. "You're slow as molasses" my Dad used to tell me all the time when I couldn't keep up with his giant stride as a child. I enjoy time spent staring off into space and dawdling and putzing have always been favorite pastimes of mine. But I think TFA culture has made me start to feel guilty for my slowness and regret that I'm not maximizing my effectiveness at each and every moment. This summer seems like a good time to recapture my slowness (luckily it's slow and easy to capture). And perhaps I can reflect on how I can use my inherent slowness to enhance my teaching style and my classroom rather than let it fill me with guilt or drag my students down, so that next year we can all learn more and rush less.

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