After 12 years of classroom teaching in elementary settings (private, public, urban, international, progressive), I have left the role of teacher and stepped into instructional coaching. This adjustment has been filled with many personal adjustments and challenges. Gradually I have gained some small moments of success. Coaching has taken on many forms and in the best relationships, trust develops where teachers are able to be vulnerable and ask for the support they really need. I wanted to post this letter because after I wrote it, the day before spring break after baring witness to a crazy kindergarten afternoon which left a teacher feeling ineffective, I realized this letter was the message I wish someone would have given my tired self. Let us think about ways to honestyly support teachers instead of judging, drilling or inundating them with more work. Teaching is TOUGH and some feedback is as hard to deliver as it is to receive. Let us come from a place of understanding and compassion.
You have earned your Spring break! Today reminded me of the day before winter break. Do you remember how tired you were and how exhausted the children were? This is like that! As I looked at their faces, what I saw was restlessness. 5 and 6 year olds can only sit for so long before they lose focus, start to play and maybe even act out. That’s what I saw this afternoon. And when teachers are tired and frustrated with their behavior, there is very little we can do in the moment. I can tell you what I have done in the past but I am not saying any of these are “the right thing.”
-I have dropped everything to have a heart to heart. I put a chart with a sad face and a happy face up and talked about what were some things that were right about the day and then what were some things that went wrong. Kids get this language. Then I ask them to help me solve these problems. What can we do to make it better? Sometimes just asking the group, “what are the problems and how can we work together to solve them?” can go a long way for getting them on board.
-I have stopped my rigorous teaching agenda and addressed the children’s needs for a break, movement or play. Only you know what would be possible for your kids and what might be acceptable ways of giving this
-Broke the lessons down into smaller chunks, even using a timer to let children see how long we have before we move on
-Let everyone find a spot to listen to a relaxing read aloud. Let the children pick the book.
Children get antsy and tired like adults but they are even more likely to behave “badly” versus expressing their feelings or needs clearly. It is very tough in those moments and I always commend you for how you passionately stick to teaching the content. That is a difficult thing especially for 5 and 6 year olds. Sometimes when we know these types of days are coming we can alter our plans on the front end instead of the back end. For example, a day before the break, plan an afternoon activity that’s really fun or really relaxing. Meeting up with another class, have guest readers visit, doing a craft, etc.
I love watching you and your class. You work so, so, so, hard! But the bottom line is this: teaching is really hard. Urban education has it’s own unique challenges. Kindergarten students are sometimes the easiest but others times the hardest to engage and “control.” It’s hard to make them care when sometimes they don’t. They all want attention. They are easily influenced. They have many needs that they haven’t yet learned to meet for themselves. The things you do that work are being consistent with routines, referring to your expectations, having positive behavioral motivators and using support when you can from others. You are doing those. Other tools include getting parents engaged and making personal connections with children. You are doing this as much as possible. There are many factors to what you are doing and every single child is a new puzzle to work towards understanding. One child at a time. One day at a time.
Take care of yourself. Refill your cup. We will begin again later. Sometimes walking away is the best thing you can do because you can return with new ideas and new energy.