Lately, I have been ruminating frequently on the gift of a teacher’s energy. From my experience and as communicated by Ginott, the energy of a teacher dictates the energy of most aspects in a classroom community: academic learning, social-emotional environment, engagement, collaboration, rigor, etc.
This gift has felt more like a burden lately. I normally bring a considerable amount of energy to the classroom. Many students might say they’re annoyed by my kinetic presence–but few would say they’re bored. From the moment we meet at the door to the end, I’m “on.” But in the wake of parent teacher conferences, TCAP, a half-marathon, the time change, sleep-disruption, and a sinus infection, I have been dragging the last few class days.
“Miss, are you ok?”
“Miss, you mad?”
“Miss, what’s wrong?”
These have been the kind and concerned greetings from students who are much more familiar with… well, more.
In times like this, I realize what I’ve done well: bringing a high level of dynamic energy to our classroom community.
In times like this, I realize what I’ve done poorly: teaching, transferring, and expecting a high level of dynamic energy from others in our classroom community.
In my tiny little head, I would imagine this is the key delineation between a teacher who will burn out and a teacher who will go the distance. If for the rest of my career, I rely on the level of energy in my room based on what I alone create, I am going to be tired. There needs to be a shift, to steal a physics term, an energy transference. Instead of measuring the success of my energy based on what I generate, I need to measure the success based on how I transfer that energy to other stakeholders–my students. After all, this is truly what calls me to teach–to empower my students, to put (em) power into.
Recently after a visit to my classroom, my boss gave me a great suggestion which connected so aptly to this. I pride myself on the kind of discussions I lead in my classroom: high-level, academic vocabulary flying left and right, student involvement, yada yada. But what we discussed was that in this, I am still the center–I am still the energy. The question after that feedback conversation was how can I transfer discussion leadership to my students?
In other words, how can I transfer energy to them? How could I?
After some reflection and problem-solving, I first decided to poll the class to see who would want to be a discussion leader. Then, while other students were becoming experts in small groups on some poetry analysis questions, I met with those students. Together we worked through what it meant to be an effective/ineffective discussion facilitator. (In those few moments with those students, I realized the value of this exercise went far beyond energy transference in my classroom; this was a life-skill these students could apply in so many other contexts.) After that conversation, one student stepped up to lead the class in discussion, and I, gasp, sat on the couch and participated like any other student. It was a joy, and a relief for my tired and diminished teacher-self, to just sit and breath and watch one of my kiddos rise up and lead. He asked probing and insightful questions. The class gave him feedback, which he took. He kept the conversation moving among a variety of students. It was… beautiful energy. And the best part–it didn’t come from me.
There’s so much more to say about this activity’s impact: how those students who were to be leaders lit up, even one who has been disengaged lately; how the students’ presence in the discussion was lively knowing their peer was leading it; how they supported and challenged one another… but that’s for another post.
When I have some more energy.