Monday, October 3, 2011

That Which is Measurable


I woke tired this morning, and hung on to the fatigue as the day progressed. Nothing could seem to lift me from this funk: not sunshine through the windows, not a canceled meeting at lunch, not candy from the bowl in the counseling office. "I need energy and optimism," I confessed to a colleague of mine as I picked through the wrapped treats. She, who is much older and wiser than myself, agreed that today seemed to be made of such sentiments.

Unfortunately, one fun size Almond Joy and one mini-vanilla-Tootsie-Roll were not the solution.

Returning my desk to get to work during my prep period I was greeted with an online report card, feedback on my first week's work for an online class. This class was the thief of many hours of what could have been free time on Sunday, which I spent reflecting on writing curriculum and personal writing habits rather than idling away time hanging out with Curtis, watching Hulu, or baking cookies. While the three essays and numerous feedback comments led to a reflective afternoon and evening, they left me drained of all creative energy come morning, and bitter that the time had been spent while Curtis was home.

And then I opened the email. Do you remember that moment when you no longer received tangible, measurable feedback? Perhaps it was after high school, maybe college or even graduate school. As much as I did not miss the finals, the schedule, or the endless mountains of reading upon graduation, I did miss the consistent tangible measures of how I was doing. Letters, every few months, would be posted to match my progress, and I could assure myself that my work was worthwhile, no matter how insecure I felt in my developing skills.

Then, I became a teacher. Sure, I have observations with administrators and the occasional pat-on-the-back email from an appreciative parent. But I also have rants from other parents frustrated about a teaching unit or method, some students failing for any number of reasons, and a general attitude of apathy from other students that I can't figure out how to combat. At the end of the day I can give myself a grade for how I feel I performed, but it doesn't seem to hold as much weight as the one that was issued on perforated card stock the week after each semester ended--nor is it as unbiased.

It turns out that a good old fashioned report card was what I needed today, a little positive feedback that tells me "Great job! You excel at writing essays about yourself, reading pages of a textbook, and incorporating that information into your classroom model. You can be critical as well as inquisitive about writing instruction, and you have great voice."And then I felt okay about afternoon classes that were boring and distracted, about impatience with the girl that tried to blame me for her missing assignment, about the fact that I'm never going to finish my units in time for the end of the quarter. For a moment, measurable feedback from an outside source trumped the self-critical-and-sometimes-reflective attitude that forces me to proclaim each day as a success or failure.

Today I declare success: We moved forward even though I was tired; I forced students to pay attention even though they wanted to sleep. Tomorrow is another day, hopefully filled with energy and optimism, hopefully declared success as well--even though I'll have to wait until next week for more tangible feedback.

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