Losing Control

The hardest thing for a teacher is to let go of his or her class.  To trust the students to make the right choices for themselves.  To guide them, not enable them.  To let the students make and learn from their mistakes.  To set the expectations high for all  students.

It was hard for me.  In my eight year evolution from a newbie teacher to a veteran,  I have changed.   I began as a bright-eyed rookie teacher thinking that I – armed with my new degree and creativity oozing from my pores- could change the life of every child for the better.  Ha!  I felt flat on my face.  The kids ate me alive.  I had no control and  spent countless minutes in the hallway crying and asking myself, ” I became a teacher…Why?”   Who could have prepared me for a 450 square foot classroom with no walls (when visitors would come to see our little school they asked the kids what they would like to see in their school and they asked for a wall and a door!)  and no furniture (thank God for IKEA!).  Who could have prepared me for the overwhelming social and emotional needs of some of these children whose lives were so chaotic they didn’t understand how to act in a respectful way around others.

I floundered the first few years and then I went to a summer workshop about classroom management and decided to take control.  I got very organized.  I formulated clearly in my mind what I wanted my classroom to look like, sound like.  I taught the students procedures so that the classroom looked and sounded exactly the way  I wanted.  I developed a behavior system, which seemed harsh but worked like a charm with a balance of rewards and punishments.  (All of which I realize now controls behavior but does not change it).   My little six, seven and eight year olds were able to file, keep the colored pencils color coded and everything in the classroom  organized.  Queen Lily was born, complete with fairy wings and gold shoes.  A benevolent queen, but a ruler nonetheless.

Fast forward several years.  This is my second year of teaching the older students (11-15 year olds), a few of whom I already taught  when they were wee ones.  Although I rarely don my queenly costume anymore (but I occasionally do just to see the eyes of my older students roll)  I still rule the class.  Our classroom economy is based on me being the ruler.  The students have jobs and I am the one who hires and fires.  It’s still all about me.  My control.  My peace of mind.

I let go of that.  I let go of that eight days ago when our democracy was formed.  I think I could let go because I realized that I needed to let go and to trust in democracy to solve our problems.  I don’t know if I could have appreciated what this democracy all means  unless I fully realized how much I did run the show.  I think a lot of us teachers think we are democratic but we are not.  A lot of teachers are like the helicopter parents, hovering over their children, micromanaging their every move, not letting them fail and learn and have the satisfaction of picking themsleves up and trying again, feeling sorry for our students rather than giving them them the gift of independence and making choices (good and bad) so that they become responsible citizens.  I am glad that I knew.  I was concious of the fact that I ruled the roost.  It helped me  let go.  I realized that I had to let go.  I am not perfect by any means.  I think I participate too much in classroom meetings.  I sometimes don’t follow the rules explicity.  I hear my “teacher” voice creeping through more often than it should.  I am struggling and learning to let go of control as much as the students are struggling and learning to gain control of their learning and their lives.

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