I remember having a conversation once with a fairly new teacher at a different school. She spoke about some creative things that she was doing in her classroom, and how all of her children seemed really engaged in the learning. She mentioned to me though, “If anyone walked by, I’m sure that they would wonder what was going on. The room was a mess. There were buckets of manipulatives all over the floor. There was a lot of noise as students worked through the math problems together. I kept my eye on the door, worried about what people would think.” That’s when I shared my story.
Our room is always a mess. I usually wear my glasses on the top of my head for most of the day, as the sight of a big mess stresses me out, but the blurry look makes me feel calmer. This made the teacher laugh, but it’s also true. There are a lot of things that I choose to do to feel better about the same experience that she described to me … as this is what we experience in our play-based Kindergarten classroom every single day.
- I get down low to the floor. Then I can still see and work with the children, but have less of a view of the big mess.
- I find some quiet areas in the classroom. With 32 Kindergarten students, we don’t have a lot of “quiet,” but there are spaces that have less noise. Right now, that space is at our writing/drawing area. If I’m feeling overwhelmed by the noise, I move myself over there. Just the quiet conversations and the ability to write and draw with some students, makes me feel better.
Even with a larger group of students, this space is so calm.
- I go to the sensory bin. Sensory play can be calming for adults as well as children. I love to get my hands in the shaving cream, play with the soapy sponges, and even create with the loose parts, as I explore the different textures and materials. I can actually feel myself calming down as I go to the space, and I love that as soon as an adult appears there, more children follow.
I loved playing here too!
- I connect with one or two students, or even a small group. If there’s a lot of action happening in the classroom, I try to narrow my focus. By talking or working with just a few students, I acclimate myself to the noisy environment and feel less overwhelmed by it.
- I start to tidy up. I don’t put everything away, but I slowly start filling some bins, and getting students to clean up the items that they are not using. This reduces the visual noise in the room and makes me feel better about the space. It also tends to lower the overall noise level, as students can also find messy spaces dysregulating.
But as I also shared with her, even with everything I do, I still worry.
- I worry about what others will think during walkthroughs.
- A Teacher’s Performance Appraisal still makes me want to throw up.
- I worry if others will see the value in messy learning.
These worries are not going to stop me from doing what I do, as I truly believe in the value of this type of learning environment for kids. My teaching partner and I see this value every single day. We know that we’re meeting expectations. We see children learning, and we hear them discussing their learning. We know that a mess can be tidied up, and that the conversations, while sometimes loud, are also purposeful. We also know that we’ve created quiet spaces for the students that need it, and we’ve been able to find these spaces when we also need them. But the worries are there, and when talking to this teacher, I started to wonder if we need to share them more. I thought about myself.
- I’ve taught for 15 years.
- I’ve taught all grade levels in some capacity from JK-Grade 6.
- I’ve presented to colleagues in our Board, online, and at conferences.
- I’ve won an award for teaching.
And no matter what, I will probably always worry, wonder, and question … but maybe there’s value in embracing all of these things. These are the things that help us improve.
- They cause us to reflect.
- They force us to dialogue more.
- They encourage us to change.
If we embrace the “worry,” celebrate these difficult experiences, and support each other in having more of them, will greater changes continue to happen? We encourage students to take risks and make mistakes. How do we do the same for adults? What might this mean for education? I would love to hear your thoughts.
I so appreciate your open honest reflections in this post: regarding the many facets of worry for you. Many felt like a second skin to me as well. I believe as long as the worry didn’t stagnate and stop what I felt was DAP then I was okay. When the worry numbs one from moving forward, that’s the concern. I’ve written about the importance of risk-taking, if asked for our students then isn’t it appropriate for the adults to demonstrate. Your post caught my attention because I had just written about “Hiding The Truth: What The Super Bowl Taught Me” and where my concerns are at this time.
Thanks for your comment, Faige! I think that there’s value in sharing these honest reflections. Thank you also for telling me about your recent post. The title intrigues me. I will definitely check it out.
For experienced and new teachers as well, reflections need to be part of the ongoing learning. I often wonder what new teachers feel, when they’re overwhelmed and look around and see “the perfect class.” Without hearing questions we have concerning our practices and what impact it has on our students, we hide behind a door that may shield us, but shelters no one.
Such an important point, Faige! If we share our questions, problems, worries, etc., we show that no matter how many years people are in education, we’re always still learning. We help others see that there’s value to this learning and to these reflections. If we really want change to happen in education, I think that this has to happen first.
Your post reminded me of a discussion I had with another teacher. And yes it relates to football as well. One of my favourite NFL players is Jerry Rice. Upon his retirement he said that he never enjoyed playing and what kept him motivated was a fear of failing. That is my confession to you. I’m slightly different than his view. I do enjoy teaching. However, one of the reasons I push myself: I worry about falling behind. I worry about failing. I worry about not teaching well. People often look at my room or what I am doing and say I’m doing a good job. But I always question myself. Like Jerry Rice, I push myself to do more. And I can never really say I’m satisfied with my work. As a teacher, I try to please the students, my staff and my admin. Like you, I worry about walkthroughs and, I worry about kids’ learning. I often wonder about TPAs. Insite of this response, I don’t see myself as an anxious person at all. Someone told me you have to worry about your job. It shows that you care. What do you think? Are we running to the end zone out of fear of being tackled? Lol
This is a very interesting perspective, Enzo! I don’t know if it’s the fear that propels me to do more. I think that for me, it’s more my desire to want to do more/a better job for kids. But one thing that I will say is that regardless of what propels us forward, I think that we can’t let this fear stop us. If we do, then how do kids benefit and how do we improve? And maybe, being open about these fears and how we respond to them, will ultimately lead to more changes in education. I think there’s value in that.