Ten days since I've posted something here...that in itself shows how hectic things are right now. I don't think I've let this side of the blog go silent for that long since I started. And it's not that I don't have anything to say, it's just that everything has been moving so fast I haven't had time to sit down and write. My students have Free Write Fridays, so I'm extending that kindness to myself this morning as well.
The holidays are stressful for everyone, and it's the beginning of the December-February stretch of the school year that always seems to be the peak of frustration/depression/burnout for most teachers. You can tell we are in need of a time out from the little frustrations in order to refocus on what we do best. I'm just as guilty of this as anyone else, even when I'm trying to remind myself to stay positive. Yesterday was a perfect exercise in reminding myself of why I do what I do.
I require one-on-one writing conferences with all of my students every six weeks (which means twice per trimester). They choose the agenda or issue and we talk about it. These range from editing help to brainstorming sessions to help with writing assignments for other classes. And while I genuinely believe that they do help my students to become better, more thoughtful and reflective writers, that's probably not the most important thing happening during these conferences. What I'm really doing when I sit down with kids is building relationships with every one of them. It gives me a few minutes to focus only on that kid, and to relax and have a casual conversation away from the sometimes-intimidating traditional classroom setting. It's also a time and scheduling nightmare for me, because I do all of these conferences outside of class time.
Mornings, my planning period, lunch, after school: writing conferences squeezed into every spare moment of my day. The stress from that can sometimes make me rethink why I'm doing this, why I'm sacrificing so much of my time during the day, which in turn leads to all of my grading and planning taking place at home, which means I have no life and a lot more stress.
And then I have a day like yesterday. One of my 8th grade boys who is highly at-risk missed his originally scheduled conference because of frequent absences. I didn't harass him about rescheduling because he is very much not someone who responds to typical teacher hounding behaviors. I didn't say a word. Yesterday he came to me and asked if he could stay after school to make it up. He asked to stay after school!
He did. We had his conference. He was my last of the day, so I walked down the hall with him to check my mailbox in the office as he was heading out the door to leave. And then he planted himself at the door and stayed to talk to me for ten more minutes about his favorite tv shows and our common interest in comic books.
I admit at first that my body language was very much trying to signal him that I was ready to end our conversation. We'd already had a conference and some chit chat, it was late, it's been a long week, I had friends coming over for dinner and the house was a mess. I even told him to have a good night after I thought we had wrapped things up, and as I started to turn, he said, "One more thing Mrs. Hauptsteen." And then we stood and talked some more because he was trying to convince me to start watching Arrow since I was a big fan of the Green Arrow comic books as a teenager and college kid. He was not keeping me there to talk about school; he was keeping me there to connect with an adult about something he enjoys in life.
I felt terrible that I'd tried to turn away from him and I forced myself to be present for the rest of the conversation, until he was done. It ended up being half an hour total. My principal and the secretary and a colleague saw this and could not believe their eyes and ears. This might have been more than anyone had ever heard him speak at once, and was certainly more pleasant than most of his interactions at school. Giving him that time might make school a little better for him, might make his life a little better in some tiny way, and it was a small sacrifice in time for me. I'm going to keep reminding myself in the week and a half leading up to break that those small inconveniences on my part can mean a huge difference to an impressionable kid, and I'll try to focus on them instead of the negative.
I teach 7th and 8th grade English in rural Iowa and hope to reflect, connect, and share with other English teachers. Iowa Council of Teachers of English Executive Board member. Iowa Writing Project superfan. UNI MA:TESS graduate.