My husband’s very apt nickname for me is Rou-Tina. I adore the structure of daily schedules. I revel in completing mundane tasks in the same orderly manner each time I do them…because I’ve taken time to figure out the most logical plan of action and see no reason to alter what makes sense. I have a place for everything and, yes – by the end of the day at least – I expect everything to be in place. So, on a (slightly?) less neurotic level, I guess I’m a female incarnation of the title character for the TV series Monk!
But, interestingly, Rou-Tina willingly slides to the backseat when I teach. Sure, I plan for my teaching. When I worked with immigrant kids in public schools, I mapped out the most sensible way to meet the standards and benchmarks semester by semester – and then broke that into manageable weekly chunks, faithfully recorded on daily lesson plans. When I taught a co-op class for homeschooled teens, I created a detailed syllabus. And even as I home-educate my two elementary-aged daughters, I plan in similar ways for every content area we cover.
I’m thankful, though, for what usually happens when I’m face-to-face with my students. Rou-Tina is there in the back, quietly whispering clarifications to the driver; she is, after all, a key part of the act of teaching. But the driver at that point ceases to be a caricature with a nickname. Instead, what seems to flow from me – without me planning for it or even thinking about it – are relational-type descriptors: warmth, encouragement, empathy, care.
So Friday’s plans moved to the following Monday or Tuesday because the hard-working small groups needed more time to finish. I sat for an hour after school with Roberto one day, until he mustered the courage to admit he misbehaved because he couldn’t read. I chauffeured Sivilay to the district music festival, rented violin tucked under his arm, because no one in his family could drive. I listen to – and hear – the “short” stories Rachel and Abbie concoct to inject some fun into defining simple spelling words.
If you have the heart of a teacher, the same is true of you.
But at this time of year, with just weeks remaining on most school calendars, it’s all too easy to hand the keys to Rou-Tina. Because you wake up at three in the morning in a cold sweat, thinking, “We have so much yet to cover!” And so you’re tempted to tighten the reigns, buckle down…basically use every cliché in the book to quickly shovel in more information and fill every gap.
To be sure, check your plan. Be diligent. Make sure your Rou-Tina has a voice. But remember what Dr. Kathy says: We don’t teach English or math or music. We teach children. So keep your focus on making daily progress with and for the children.