Monday, July 25, 2016

Gut-Level Teacher Reflection Part I

I am an avid follower of The Cult of Pedagogy podcast, published by Jennifer Gonzales. It is an excellent resource for all things teaching. But a few weeks ago, she put out an episode that literally blew me away. She called it, "Gut-Level Teacher Reflection." In the podcast, she goes over 5 tough reflection questions that really tap into your emotional responses to your teaching, in an effort to dig in to what is really going on in your classroom. I actually listened to the podcast three separate times, it was so thought-provoking for me.

The reflection questions are intense, so I am going to answer them in a series of five different blog posts. I will try to be brutally honest so that I can uncover my own truths about my teaching practice. 

1. Look around your classroom (or picture it in your mind). What parts of the room make you feel tense, anxious, or exhausted? What parts make you feel calm, happy, or proud?

This is super-tough for me, because I'm leaving my classroom for a new one. So I have lots of emotional triggers when picturing the library. You can enter the library from two different hallways, one on each side of the space. That main entryway makes me feel very tense and unsettled. This is because it acts as a hallway for lots of kids after every class period. Because two schools with different schedules use the space, it meant lots of noise during my instructional time. So as I stand there in my mind, I see a worn out carpet, an overused copy machine and printer, and doorways into other people's spaces (which also brings me tension, although it's not their fault. It was an awkward "marriage" when the technology department was moved smack dab into the library, taking the two office spaces. I just never knew how to really feel about that situation).

If I move out of that entryway, I enter my new fiction reading space, and I immediately feel calm and at peace. This is a space I put together right before the end of the year, and am extremely happy with it. I have comfortable chairs, mood lighting, cute pillows, and the entire area is surrounded by books. It's somewhat closed off from the entryway, so it is almost it's own space. I have a lot of pride in this little reading nook.

Moving further back, I run into the newly created office space for our instructional coach, tables for the new study hall, and my circulation desk. This area makes me feel guilty. I didn't know when we started making those plans that I would be leaving, and so I feel like I let down my colleagues who were invested in that space. I also have some tension because the circulation desk was an area of great stress for me. Without an aide, I was constantly being "paged" back to the desk to answer phones, check out books, process new orders, etc. Even imagining it right now, I feel my blood pressure rising and my breathing getting shallower. 

If I keep moving around the room, I wind up in the middle school instructional space. This makes me feel excitement, contentment, fatigue, and purpose. This is where I would hold my bimonthly middle school library lessons, and it holds my favorite memories at this job. I can just picture laughing with my kids, painting book ends, working on research projects, and learning. There's nothing fancy about this space at all, but it's what happened IN the space that makes it truly special for me.

Looking at the center of the room, I see the bank of 40 computers. I have mixed feelings about this space. It was the area in the library most coveted by teachers (not enough technology in the buildings=making use of these 40 computers as much as possible). It meant cramming in as many classes as possible, which sometimes went well and sometimes went badly. But I also have memories of helping out kids, looking over their shoulders and offering advice. I have a lot of peace about that role of my last position. I loved hanging out with kids in those times.

So what patterns am I seeing in this reflection?

1. I need/want interaction with kids, particularly at the middle school level. This is where I have the most positive emotional response in my library, my middle school instructional space. Teaching is vital to my sense of purpose and fulfillment. 

2. I do not like chaos and unstructured time. It makes me feel lost and out of sorts. I think much of this will be alleviated in my new setting, where I will be working with one schedule and younger students.

3. Relationships are very important to me. I will do pretty much anything to protect the people around me from discomfort, even if it means hurting myself. The shared technology/library space is a prime example. It hurt me deeply that a significant move like taking office space from the library happened without letting me know. Rather than being honest with those involved, I hid my feelings and suffered with some pretty serious frustration that eventually turned into bitterness. This is key for me, and I am reading and learning about honesty, setting boundaries, and self-care.

What do you all think? Would you share your gut-level reaction to a walk-through of your classroom? 

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