Monday, December 7, 2009

Musical Chairs (and Desks)

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” ~ Steve Jobs

My journey to becoming the English teacher I wanted to be was mostly about learning to trust my own instincts and filter the advice from others. Today I know that it is also about knowing that I will never reach the perfection I seek - the journey towards that goal is what matters.

When I think back on my early days in the classroom I realize that there was a very visual way to see the evolution of my confidence: the arrangement of my desks.

Phase 1: Rows (assigned seats)– easy to move around, easy to move students around, not great for community

Phase 2: Small Groups (assigned seats) – easy to move around, hard to control without good classroom community, bad for whole-group discussions, hard to keep focused without engaging lessons

Phase 3: Concentric Semicircles (assigned seats)– better for classroom discussions, hard to move around, harder to manage student conflict in, still not easy for everyone to see each other

Phase 4: One Big Circle - great for classroom discussion, hard to move around quickly to be physically near students, okay if you’ve got good classroom community (which by now I was starting to get)

Phase 5: Flexible Seating – Every day is a new day, arrange the desks to fit the lesson, trust students to sit where they are going to be most successful

Getting to my final classroom-setup took time. It took trial and error and understanding of the fact that what works for other teachers doesn’t have to work for me. I went through all these configurations in just 4 months, but what I learned at each stage was essential to moving on to the next.

Though it frustrated me to not get it right the first, second, or even third time – I came to realize that if I wasn’t learning as a teacher, I probably wasn’t being a very good teacher. To this day, I pick myself up after every instructional disaster and find peace in the knowledge that this exact fiasco won’t ever happen again.

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