[This post is part of the Virtual Conference on Core Values, found here. ]
Balance sits on the throne of my classroom, sometimes nodding its crown in satisfied approval, sometimes shifting its scepter in unimpressed exasperation. Intentional choices and every once in a while just plain luck help create this balance. This quest for balance lies at the heart of my classroom. In fact, it’s one of the 8 Keys of Excellence I infuse into my classroom throughout the school year.
As the teacher I am expected to be master of my content. That was implied when the ink dried on my contract. Of course I need to know things like why roots are so important and how to find them, for example, and why any student should care about a feasibility region, factoring a trinomial, graphing a line, or any one of the many state standards I’m paid to teach. It is my job to know these things and have effective methods for teaching them.
But here’s the rub. Experience has taught me that it’s also my job as a professional educator to find the often elusive point of balance-the point between bludgeoning my kids with overkill and knowing when to call an audible. It’s my job to recognize and adjust. I keep a mindful watch on the mood of the class with a well-worn quiver of adjustments. These adjustments don’t forsake the integrity of the lesson but rather chase after balance. I make adjustments like throwing out the window what my stubborn brain thinks we ought to cover in a class period (sometimes by expanding what we do), refereeing between enriching classroom comments and unproductive classroom banter, recognizing when disillusioned students need to hear more about the big picture of why they’re in school and less “oh, one more thing” squeezing in of information. It’s about balance.
It’s also about balance when I make the choice to start class one minute late because I ask a girl how she’s doing at the door and she breaks down in tears over a family tragedy. It’s about balance when I commandeer a few minutes of instructional time to address an ugly outbreak of hate talk on campus. It’s about balance when I prevent myself from teaching in the ways I was taught in high school because they’re familiar and the unfamiliar can be scary. It’s about balance when I flop a lesson, because deep down I’ve given myself the creative permission to fail, full well knowing that glorious fruit may yet come of my attempt. It’s about balance when I try to see my adolescent students through the eyes of their parents and not as students who are wallpapered with varying percentages of understanding. It’s about balance when I acknowledge that my class is but one in my students’ six class lineup and not to get bent out of shape if they don’t breathe math. It’s about balance when I bury the reckless comments I have swirling in my head that I want to unleash on talkative students by telling myself there’s a more loving way to get their attention than by belittling.
When I began as a teacher I thought I had a handle on this balance. I didn’t. I was green. I saw getting through the math as the goal. Now I don’t. I teach people first, math second. I tell my students that I don’t get paid extra to be funny, interesting, or motivational. If I ever am, it works towards achieving balance. When balance reigns supreme it is detectable and makes me and my students feel like royalty.