My life has been busy the last couple of months; what with moving, starting a new job, and working hard not to get overwhelmed by it all. As an Autistic (I use Identity first language as most Autistics do), this many life changes should send me spinning.
It isn’t as if I don’t have moments of mind-bending spirals that leave me shaking with anxiety. Something seems to have changed. For the first time in years, I feel like the mistakes I’m making as a teacher are small in comparison to the ways I’m succeeding. Rather than taking responsibility for things in my student’s lives or educational history that are beyond my ability to control, I’m learning to focus on those things my actions might be able to effect.
My goal as an educator is to set high, but achievable, expectations. When they fail to meet my expectations, I have to ask myself a series of questions:
- Are the students who are on time and present in school every day the ones who are struggling?
- Are the only students really struggling with a concept/task the ones who are chronically late and absent?
- Are the ones struggling also the ones who seem not to be listening, or who seem off task?
I have found there are students who believe my function as a teacher is to distribute pieces of paper with instructions. I have told them that I give lessons, which are not all recorded on paper. If they could get just as much from a piece of paper as they get from me, why would I need to be there?
If students who have consistent attendance are struggling, I have to assume my lesson and the supporting materials have been inadequate to help the students reach the objective. If students who seem to be paying attention and who appear to be on task are struggling, I have have to assume that I have not told them what they need to know to understand. If the only students who are struggling are the ones with inconsistent attendance, or who never seem to be listening, I might be safe assuming their behaviour is the problem.
In the past, if I came to the conclusion I was the problem, I would have panicked. It would have seemed like the end of the world. Now I have confidence that the bulk of what I do has been effective so that the few mistakes can be rectified relatively painlessly.
My students wrote a test today and it quickly became obvious I had attributed skills to them that I take for granted. At the same time, I observed that a few students were still able to complete the tasks. Upon further consideration, I noticed a few of the students did not complete portions of the tasks they should have been able to, regardless of their challenges with other portions. This made me think there might be an element of laziness contributing to the problem. Perhaps they have become used to lowered expectations. If that was the case, lowering expectations would be a poor reaction.
In the end, I decided to create a make-up assignment that focused on the skills they seemed to struggle with. The make-up assignment will be homework. If it turns out laziness was the issue, that attitude will carry over into their willingness to do homework, and they’ll end up keeping the mark they earned.
Working all of this out before walking out of the school doors was a key reason I didn’t spend this whole evening freaking out over the thought that I had pushed them too far. A few years ago, I would have spent the whole weekend beating myself up and wasted a great deal of time trying to make up for it on Monday morning.