Thursday, March 17, 2011

Finding the Trees in the Forest

Teacher Musings:
I first heard the phrase "forest for the trees" from one of my favorite singers: Huey Lewis. (Yes - I grew up in the eighties). I have always tried to embrace the idea of seeing the "forest for the trees." I think about the big picture, even when the little things get me down. For example, when I have a rough day with my classes, I remind myself of my long term goals for the year, and figure out how I can change my plans or instruction to keep moving towards those goals. When I screw up as a parent, I remind myself that it is just one moment - I need to see the big picture for what I want my son's childhood to be. When things at my work change in a way that makes my life more difficult, I try and see what the larger vision of the school is and how these changes are helping us get there.

For the most part this ability to step back and see the larger picture has been beneficial - it has helped me refocus my energy or see beyond some (seemingly) negative changes in my life. However, I have started to worry that I am missing the trees in the forest when it comes to students in my class. This year I have seventy students total - which is still a LOT lower than the 160 I used to have in California, but it is double what I had the last two years at my current school. I have spent a lot of energy figuring out ways to give my students feedback and keep them reading and writing as much as possible without getting myself bogged down in grading. This, coupled with the fact that I don't stay after school as late (because of my one-year old and some mandatory district training) means that I have had less interaction with individual students than in previous years. I'm starting to worry that I am seeing my students as a large mass rather than as individuals. This really hits home with me when I do have one of those incredibly valuable individual interactions - a student stays after school to talk about an assignment, another student asks for a "good" book to read, another student request that I read and comment on his poetry. Often in these moments I am really reminded of some of the realities my students face (taking care of younger siblings, knowing people who have been shot etc.) which is an important reminder of what is behind that sea of faces in my classroom. I also get a great dose of my students' senses of humor, their creative and problem solving abilities and their brilliance that may not always manifest itself in our classroom assignments.

I used to have a lot more of these moments when I had fewer students, when I stayed around school longer, when I was a club adviser. And these moments make a me a better teacher, because it helps me see the individuals trees in the forest of my class, and helps me remember that teaching is not about me pitted against the mass of teenagers - it is about a group of individuals (myself included) trying to learn, figure out who we are, and become better people and citizens in the process.

Yummy Stuff:
I've been trying to eat healthier, which means salads at lunch! I also have the added issue of wanting to bring my lunch for the week on Monday, since I also have been trying to bike to work again now that our snow has finally melted. So, here is what I need for a week of incredibly yummy (and filling) spinach salad

1 bag of pre-washed spinich (Trader Joe's has it for 1.99)
1 bag of whole walnuts (again, TJs)
1 bag of dried cranberries (TJs!)

Maple-Raspberry Dressing:
2 TB olive oil
2 TB maple syrup
1 TB of raspberry wine vinegar
1 TB dijon mustard

1. Put all the dressing ingredients in a small jar (I used an cleaned out yeast jar, which many people at work thought was weird - but it worked!)
2. Shake the jar for 20-30 seconds, or until all the ingredients are mixed. It might take a few swirls with a fork as well.
3. Bring everything to work and put it in the fridge (including the walnuts - cranberries can stay in your office or room if you want)
4. At lunch, pull out your bowl and fork (yes, you have to bring those two) and put on a handful of spinach, a small handful of walnuts and a sprinkling of cranberries.
5. Mix the dressing up with your fork and then pour a bit on the salad - just until there is dressing on most of the top leaves.
6. Spread the dressing around a bit and enjoy! Don't worry - a little of this dressing goes a long way!

This salad can also be perked up with slices of pear, chunks of apple or chickpeas!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I really appreciate the thoughtfulness of this post. I'm a teacher too and I find the most rewarding part of the job is the relationships we establish with individual students. I find this goes both ways. Some of the most significant moments I had as a student were when teachers recognized me as an individual.
If you are pressed for face time, try getting your kids to post some of their writing online on a wiki page. I started doing this last year for a few assignments and it was great. I find I can spend a lot more time dwelling on the writing of an individual kid if I can do this on my couch at night with my laptop. I find that kids will write back and they really appreciate the effort made to connect with them.