With summer's fast approach, the hearts and minds of teachers are starting to linger on the coming-back-together this fall. I'd like to speak a bit into any anxiety you might be feeling right now about your adequacy for meeting the challenges ahead.
Let's talk about gaps.
I've visited or worked in schools all across the spectrum: under-resourced, over-resourced, rural, suburban, urban, reservation. Despite the great variety of circumstances, every teacher I've met knows this challenge well:
How do I help a room full of such differently prepared young people to advance toward mastery? My students are all at different places in their learning journeys! What do I do?
I've never met a teacher who doesn't wrestle with that.
Here's my point: gaps (differences in preparation) are part of the job. Always have been. It won't make any headlines, but here's my prediction: 21-22 will only be an exaggerated version of this familiar challenge.
No classroom has ever contained identically prepared students. If we were to find identical twins and give them identical life experiences leading up to kindergarten, they'd still end up being differently prepared for kindergarten. Learning is not the same thing as uploading files into the cloud; it's a partnership. Create all the standards you want, but you'll never fully standardize it.
Not saying you shouldn't create standards. Not saying gaps in preparation are things we should passively accept.
I'm just saying kids aren't widgets. Never have been.
The good news is that the fundamentals of our work have not changed. Students still respond to high-challenge high-support. High expectations from a warm and authoritative and competent professional are still enamoring. There's still trajectory-shifting power in every beliefs-rich classroom led by a credible teacher who understands basic principles of learning and the work that matters most for mastery.
I mean, c'mon — the world may have changed, but human beings are not different creatures than they were two autumns ago. We're still all souls comprised of thoughts, emotions, beliefs, bodies, and relationships. We're magnificently complicated — both fundamentally the same and yet dumbfoundingly differentiated.
The things you've learned so far about what young people are like, how they learn, how their hearts and minds respond to learning situations? If your impressions have been accurate, this fall you won't find those things magically outmoded. (And if they've not been, this fall you'll still be the kind of person savvy and resilient enough to learn on the fly.)
Do you see it? Though gaps exist, the fundamentals don't change. And it's those fundamentals — the arts and sciences of the head and the heart — that hold the keys to remedying gaps in preparation.
So for the year to come, clarity will still be a superpower. Satisficing will still be required. You'll still need boundaries made like mountains and faith that teaching works in more ways than we're aware of.
It won't be a lazy person's work, for sure. Never is. Pack your hard hat and your work boots because you and I will be called upon to master the fundamentals in ways we've not been before. Understanding the heads and hearts of children…that'll be put to the test in new ways.
Best to you, colleague.
Teaching right beside you (until June 9, then summer),
P.S. Coming Friday: Quick thoughts to close out the week.
Elisabeth Trost says
Yes!! So well put.
Wishing everyone a restful summer!
Tom Windelinckx says
You write, “How do I help a room full of such differently prepared young people to advance toward mastery?”
I’ve adopted the Modern Classrooms Project’s instructional model of blended instruction, self-paced structures, deliberate practice, and mastery checks for my AP Physics 1 class. Students like it much better than lessons over Google Meet. They can learn whenever, wherever they prefer. I am ready to answer questions and offer help any time during the school day. (One of my most self-directed students appears to do all his physics work around midnight.)
There’s a free online course on https://modernclassrooms.org I recommend. Even if you don’t implement the whole model, there is still plenty of useful advice there to make it worth the few hours it takes.