I know I wrote about controlling students in my last post, but this topic is still nagging at me...and probably will continue to do so in our current educational climate.  But I don't want to just write about how we need to release control a little bit.  I want to think about how we balance between scaffolding the learning for our students and stifling their voice.

In my first couple of years as a teacher, I never stifled students.  They had free reign about topics, how to present their findings, which strategies to use and more.  I also didn't scaffold or support them in any helpful way.  I was brought up in the half free-market/half hippie school of thought when it came to teaching.  Allow students lots of authentic options, surround them with great work and they will pick up reading and writing and everything else.  Would you be shocked if I told you that some students struggled to learn what I thought they should?  That they didn't read Patricia Maclachlan and mysteriously start spouting off poetic lines of prose?  That they didn't all figure out word problems all on their own?

So, yes...I needed to reign in my teaching a bit...clearly a free market / hippie chic approach wasn't bringing me the results I wanted.  My students made choices, alright, but they rarely moved past their choices.  So I started to figure out how I could support my students so they could step out of their comfort zones and explore new territories.  Sometimes that meant I asked them to try something out or I modeled several times or gave them diverse examples of student work.  The point is, I chose my students over my former hard line stance on teaching.

And then I left teaching for a few years to work in research and policy.  Which, of course, led me running back with open arms to the classroom, begging to be taken in.

That's when I realized that the free market days were over.  Completely.  Instead, there was over regulation and a police state.  Tests were insanely important.  And there lots of them.  And they were terribly written.  And they really, really mattered to the school community and everyone else in America.  So, based on the false premise that these tests were "important", a whole industry was created to make these tests, practice for these tests (at school and at home) and even cheer out students on for these tests.  

Hmmmm...what was this teacher to do?

Succumb to the "reality" of modern day teaching in America?  Turn into a robotic slave and just follow orders?  Or the opposite?  Rebel completely and refuse to do anything that comes from "up above"...even if I may think it might be interesting?  Just dig in my heels and get ready for the Alamo?

How about turn back to the hippie chic and zen out?  Forget all the side issues in my periphery and focus on my students.  Focus on them as human beings.  And then focus on them as students.  Figure out what each of them want and need and work for them.  I may not know what kind of teaching I do anymore but at least I know who I am doing it for.

It doesn't matter how long I have been working with students.  Every year, I continue to be more and more amazed with the strength, resilience and power that my little ones possess.  My childhood was an easy one and thus I used to think that childhood itself was an easy phase of life.  I think back to those careless days where I had not a worry in the world and grown-ups took care of everything I needed.  

Life is not like that for many children, however, including many many students I have had over the years.  Not only do they face extremely difficult obstacles - the kinds that would make most adults crumble - but they have NO control over their fate.  They can't force their mom out of depression and make her take them to school - or just walk to school themselves.  They can't force a deadbeat dad to show up for even one birthday.  They can't make a dead parent come back to life.  They can't grant themselves legal immigration status.  They can't make a parent stop traveling for work and missing all their important milestones.  They can't control the vast health issues they face that prevent them for truly being careless.  They can't force a parent to stop drinking or taking drugs.  And most of all, they can't just pick up and move away from the bad situation they are in.  And yet, they show up in our classrooms with the biggest smile they can muster that morning, and manage to get through an entire day despite circumstances that would have me running away from everything I know.

They are amazing.  Remarkable.  Strong.  Hilarious.  Creative.  Children.  And yet, a couple of seconds after they enter the classroom, we often forget that and only see the distracting behaviors they are exhibiting.  They won't stop talking.  They seem unmotivated.  They won't sit still.  We have 20 something other students.  We can't treat them differently than everyone else.  Life is tough and we have to prepare them.  We have a million answers for why we must keep marching on.  And a million questions regarding how to make things better for our students.

This is something I am going to continue to ponder this year.  But as I do, I am going to keep in the front of my mind that the students sitting right in front of me are my true heroes...even when they are tapping a pencil as they bounce around the classroom and distract everyone else.