And Miles To Go Before I Sleep

The title this week more or less represents my inner state as I start preparing for my series of lessons. I know compared to the full workload of a teacher it is laughable, but for me at this current juncture, it is a lot. It is not so much the amount of work that it is (which is a lot, I feel I can’t stress that enough), but it is the amount of thought. My lessons and my labs are never off my mind and even when I’m supposed to be taking some time for myself, the thoughts of “how can I make this better” or “what would streamline this lab” or “what am I really trying to get them to learn” never quite go away. Speaking to a veteran teacher at a workshop, she said “welcome to teaching, that’s how it’s always gonna be.”

On top of that, there is still the five days at my placement, the classes and the assignments and with all that together makes for a push in mental stamina I haven’t had in what seems like forever. Against logic and my previous capabilities, I am prevailing (knock on all the wood) and still holding together (knock on all the wood again, just in case). In part it is from my work ethic from wrestling and knowing what off-season and in-season feel like, and how going from the off-season to in-season is always a time filled with a few bumps in the road. Your body is not quite ready for the shock of being put through that much anguish and even what seem like the simplest things put you on your back and out of breath. But over time your stamina grows, your body is used to the hits and what you found unbearable six weeks ago is now your warm-up. If the stamina building of teaching is anything like that, it’s going to be brutal, but it is a brutality I have faced before just wearing a new mask. Bring it, I say!

So, coming off my soapbox, here are my noticings for the week. Both time spent at my placement and my lesson writing came into play.

1. Empty space is amazing or horrible deepening on how you use it. Empty space on an assignment sheet allows space for improvised questions when there is some lack of understanding during a lesson or you find that an assignment has taken much less time than you had planned for it to take. So leaving a bit of empty space on an assignment sheet for that purpose can be a game-changer and correct any unforeseen circumstance on even the best lesson plans. With that said, empty space for an answer has the potential to freeze a student. Empty space immediately following a question is meant to be filled, and while giving enough space is always a good idea, too much can be challenging because there is an inherent notion that all that space should be filled with something. So what is the solution to this issue? Put in a template so the students know explicitly what the expectation is. If you ask them to draw something they see in a microscope, put in an empty circle inside the space so it is less daunting, or perhaps put in one sample template of a test tube when you want them to observe a series of reactions. In both cases, empty space is only useful when you are truly mindful of your students’ abilities and what your expectations are and what you are doing to get them there. It’s the little things and in this case, it is the nothings that matter (did I just blow your mind there?).

2. Everyone says “try you labs before you do them.” While I’ve always heeded the advice, it is remarkable how I still occasionally get humbled by writing a lab procedure. Something should work in theory and people have said worked in practice may not work for you and if Murphy’s Law has anything to say, it will most definitely not work for you. Trying to get a bromothymol blue solution to hold carbon dioxide took three different attempts in three different vessel and three different approaches. Of course, all of them failed. The most logical solution eluded me. Something I have worked with for years for whatever reason did not cross my mind until someone said it: parafilm. I thought of plastic wrap and rubber bands before I thought of parafilm. Nothing really puts you in your place than finding an incredibly local and simple solution for what you consider a dilemma. On a brighter note, I did not panic, I kept trying to find new solutions within my means. And if my means are limited, I know what my end goal is and can work with what I have. My problem solving skills will most likely be continually put to the test as I design and modify labs throughout my career. It’ll be fun… I think.

That’s all for now. Once more into the breach, dear friends.

2 thoughts on “And Miles To Go Before I Sleep

  1. I like that example. I used to swim long distances (like Jo Ann does just about daily). I remember feeling like I couldn’t continue during the first lap, but eventually still swimming over a mile.

    I accidentally left empty space on a hand-out, which worked out well, because I wanted them to jot down their ideas on scrap paper, but none had scrap paper. Perfect!

  2. I so understand this – I so live it right with you:

    “…the amount of thought. My lessons and my labs are never off my mind and even when I’m supposed to be taking some time for myself, the thoughts of “how can I make this better”…”

    I love your two take aways also – very nuanced, very real, very valuable.

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