I’ve been struggling to shift a clunky percentage in my classroom for years. How is it that I’ve spent 80% of my energy on students who are the least capable of engaging and using the instruction and attention I offer and 20% on those who are ready and willing?
Large class sizes, shifting jobs and levels, distracted and disruptive students, administrative focus on closing achievement gaps all conspire to commit resources to new strategies to magically motivate those who can’t consistently show up physically, psychologically, or intellectually.
That energy drain isn’t limited to lost hours, but also lagging inspiration and synergy that naturally occurs when students are curious and responsive.
Two months of distance learning during the pandemic wins the dubious honor of flipping that fraction like Jesus did the money changers’ tables at temple.
For the first few weeks, the majority of each of my six classes dutifully attempted to navigate the Google Classroom stream, struggled to submit each assignment, and bombarded my Gmail with a machine gun spray of questions.Then…….crickets.
Once the understanding sunk in that whatever grade earned at the trimester would be transferred to the semester’s end with NO POSSIBILITY OF LOWERING, the apostate sloughed off like snake skin. What sleek and powerful viper glistened underneath?
Introverts. Normally extroverts take up all the classroom space, whether they be strong academically or in the martial arts of annoyance. Now, students I had struggled to connect with all year all of the sudden found their voice. Through email, Google doc private comments, and Zoom class meetings that dwindled to low single digits that brought these shy creatures out of hiding. Personality glimmered through stellar work, insightful metacognitive responses, and brave video assignments.
I've felt strangely inspired, taking time to leave extensive meaningful feedback on student work, reveling in the volley of suggestions and action. It's as if I were actually teaching.
Before I leave the impression of indifference to the disenfranchised, let me show the other side of the coin.
Even as my right hand sent delightful parental emails praising students who have persisted valiantly throughout the closure, my left crafted responses to prodigals making them feel my joyful greeting from afar as I prepared them a feast for their return.
And that’s when it hit me. I was spending 80% of my time and energy with the ones doing the work, and 20% making a way for the lost to return. Victory!
We don’t know how school will look this falI, but I aspire to create a curriculum worthy of the students who want it and to unapologetically engage them. All the while remaining connected to those not currently ready, careful to leave the door open through empathy and the dignity of repeated invitations to rejoin.