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

Recognising Limitations

I hate when I am forced to come to terms with my own human limitations. I am the kind of person who always hopes I can find a way to do everything I plan on doing, even if there are simply not enough hours in the day to do them. I stretch myself thin, I sneak in brief moments to tackle different tasks, and I strive to find a way to make it all work.

But sometimes I have to take a step back and acknowledge that I can’t do it all. I can’t be everywhere and do everything that I wish I could do. I have to prioritise and perform goal-setting triage to cut out the parts that aren’t necessary.

It is especially frustrating when I find myself doing that in the classroom. There is just so much I want to do and do well! I read lots and lots and lots of books, I make mental lists of all of the best practices, I go to workshops and listen to TED talks and converse with colleagues and say to myself, “Yes! I am going to do it all! Because that is what’s best for my students! If it is a best practice, I will find a way to do it!”

Unfortunately, many best practices rely on unlimited resources or environmental factors I can’t control. It is a best practice to keep a group limited to 8-12 individuals, as that is when they are most effective; I have 22 students. It is a best practice to conference with students individually to provide instant feedback, to use small-group instruction on targeted skills, to group students by specific needs and not by broader categories. I only have about seven or so hours in the school day to do all of that, and at some point I have to have time to teach everyone, to allow for independent practice, to allow students to inquire and to explore, and to let them play.

Oh, how important it is to let students play! It is through play that they learn how to interact with others in pro-social ways that allow them to be part of a larger community. It is through play that we learn to problem solve, to think critically, to explore, to imagine, to cooperate, to challenge, to help, to grow.

So what am I supposed to do when I realise I can’t do it all, when I come face-to-face with my imperfect limitations? I have to tell myself that it is okay. Good practices, while not best, are better than no practices. Which means that I have to be okay with not doing scheduled guided math groups right now because we are all learning Eureka Math together. I have to be okay with not doing everything I hoped to do every single day as long as I am doing things that are meaningful and valuable. I have to ask myself, “Are my students learning? Are they growing?” If the answer is yes, then I need to be okay with that.

Here’s to not beating myself up for not being able to do it all!


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