The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Learning To Let Go

It feels like it has been forever since I last wrote a blog post when, really, it has only been a week. It is just that the past week included our Thanksgiving Break. I didn’t write a post yesterday for the simple reason that I had two meetings after school and then class until late and I really wanted to eat dinner and go to bed last night. Toward the end of the year, I felt guilty when I “missed” a post, but as the weeks have gone by, I’ve realised something important: I need to know what is important.

I love blogging about my teaching experiences. I am delighted when family and friends mention that they have been keeping up with my blog, even if they don’t read every post. I am even more delighted when I learn that students’ parents are reading the blog to get a general idea of what we are doing in the classroom. It always makes me feel great when a fellow educator that I only know through other blogs and Twitter shares a post or starts “following” my blog through RSS feeds. But I don’t love feeling like I have to blog. And even though I try to update every day, I no longer feel guilty about missing a day because life happens.

Which gets me to my greater theme for today, which is a theme I’ve touched on before and is a theme that I have been trying to teach to my students: learning to let go. There are things in our lives that are really important. Things like family, friends, keeping promises, integrity, learning, and personal growth. These are things that are always going to take a priority in my life. Then there are things that aren’t all that important. A college football game, a television show, the premiere of a much-anticipated movie, the knot I choose to tie my necktie with in the morning. They may be worthwhile and they may be something I want to take the time for because I enjoy them and enjoy sharing in the experiences with others, but if I had to pick between spending time with family and watching a YouTube video to learn a new knot, I’m going to pick family, every time. (Ideally, though, I will watch that video with my family so that we can share in my weird hobbies together.)

Likewise in the classroom, there are things that are important and worth melting for, and there are things that just aren’t that big of a deal. My students will always come first in my classroom. Their physical and emotional safety and well-being are a priority. Their personal learning and growth are priorities, too. Following directions, doing what is expected, being safe, responsible, and respectful, these things are important. But there are some things that I can let go of because while they are important to me, they aren’t that important.

If I know that a student was up late one night because he was waiting for his dad to get home from an extended trip away from the family and as a result that student didn’t get a lot of sleep, I’m not going to have a conniption when he falls asleep on the carpet during my read aloud. Would I prefer that my students are alive, awake, alert, and enthusiastic? Of course! Is it something to make a big deal out of? Probably not. If I am teaching a math lesson and a student suddenly gets frustrated and flips her desk over and starts yelling at me (something that has never happened in my classroom), that’s a big deal. If two students are playing during recess and get into a physical altercation, that’s a big deal. If they are playing and they get into a disagreement and one says something unkind to the other, well, it is important that we understand why kind words are always better, but am I going to send the offender to the office? No, of course not. Because in the long run, it isn’t that big of a deal!

For the past two days, I’ve had an aide in my room helping with some changes that have taken place. I also had a student teacher from Eastern Illinois University spend some time in my room today as he is finishing his practicum work. This has been a great opportunity for me to reflect on why I allow my students to do some things that other teachers may not. For example, I typically allow my students to wear hats in my classroom, provided they are not distracting others and are simply staying on heads. It has been a small way that they can express their personalities. Non-distracting clothing and accessories are simply not a big deal to me, and so I choose to let it go.

Learning to let go of the small stuff is a big deal, though. It can be hard, especially when you are in the middle of something. I have found that something small can seem enormous if you are already in an agitated state. A student may have had several classmates make unkind comments about her friendship with another student in the class. And then someone else says something related, but not even unkind. Then she gets upset at this last person and nobody can understand why. But as I talk to those involved, the big picture comes together and then we understand what happened much more. If we take the time to stop and ask what is really going on, we usually find out that it wasn’t that big of a deal in the first place.

We only have thirteen days of school left before the winter break. My goal is to focus on learning to let go of the small stuff so we can focus on the big picture. I hope that while I am working on knowing when to let go, my students will work on it, too.

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