This might sound crazy: something my assistant superintendent said inspired me this year. No, really. It's not something very deep or new, but it really hit me and it's informed my teaching and self-reflection a lot this year. What he said was this:
He might have said something like "I'm not interested in excuses." Either way, when I first heard it I thought "Yeah! No excuses! Kids need to come to school ready to work hard!"
That wasn't what he meant. He was, after all, talking to the district's teachers. He elaborated. I'm definitely not quoting here because this was months ago now, but basically he reminded us of our context. It's like this- we're in a tough district, with a lot of kids with a lot of problems at home. It's easy to blame them, or blame their parents or lack thereof, or blame the lack of funding, or our old facilities or lack of materials. It's easy to blame teachers they've had before us, or their lack of personal responsibility, or their phones, or society at large for telling every kid they deserve a trophy, or society at large for telling every poor kid they don't deserve a damn thing so don't bother trying. These things all contribute to making our jobs harder. We definitely face challenges and there's a lot of things that make problems for us.
That said, no excuses.
We're here to do our job, which is to teach these kids. However the kids come to us, it's our job to do the best we can to teach them. That doesn't mean "the best we can to teach them given that their parents aren't supportive, and they're addicted to their phones, and our district doesn't have enough staff, etc. etc." It means "the best we can." Full stop. No excuses.
There are a million, million reasons why my classes don't go smoothly that have absolutely nothing to do with me. But you know what? I can't really do anything about those million, million reasons. What I can do is take responsibility for my own teaching.
Self-flagellation comes naturally to me. I'm a life-long anxiety & depression headcase. I've done a lot of work training myself not to constantly bash myself mentally. This isn't about bashing myself. This is about taking responsibility for my actions: honoring the good and acknowledging the bad.
I have failed in a lot of ways this year, as I've posted about before. I've also been successful in a lot of ways. I'm not going to give my students credit for my successes because I worked hard to make them happen. But neither should I blame my students for my failures because I made those happen too.
What does this look like practically? Here's an example.
S: *has phone out, is openly texting during class discussion*
Me, 9/10 times this year: *ignores*
So when it's May, and little Sally has her phone out again, and I'm about to pop a vein in my forehead because I wish she'd just put the damn thing away and LISTEN for godssakes, I have to pause and think about it.
Who took the phone out? Sally.
Who showed Sally it's okay to have her phone out in class? I did. Every time another student had their phone out and I did nothing, I might as well have told Sally, "Take your phone out anytime. I don't mind. It's not disrespectful or distracting in any way for me. You just do you."
So. I can react to Sally's phone in one of two ways. I can be angry and I can blame her and society and kids these days. Or, I can take responsibility and try to fix the situation. Maybe I can't fix it long term today. But I can certainly ask her to put it away and remember to write her up (school policy) if she doesn't. And I can take responsibility and try to make sure it doesn't happen again by being firmer in the future and being more consistent and doing the hard thing and taking action 10/10 times I see a phone, even if I don't feel like it or I'm in the middle of a sentence.
So, no excuses. It sounds rough, but I actually find it quite freeing and positive. I can do something. There maybe are a million, million problems out there making my job harder and about which I can't do anything. But what I can do is take some personal responsibility for my classroom and my behavior, just as I'd like my students themselves to do.