When we turn our attention outwards, which happens naturally when we're in the act of teaching, I find that I turn my fears about my inadequacies inside out...most of the time. They diminish and become recycled energy, however brief that period of time may last once students exit the classroom. Having the classroom empty, and thoughts to one's self, is when we risk mulling about everything that went wrong during the day and potentially miss considering those things that went right. I recently came across two terms which I find to be very relevant to this topic, goal-directed and stimulus-driven attention, the latter being where our fearful thoughts enter stage right. Interestingly, the nervous thoughts often originate from outside incidents and find their way inside, becoming larger than life, whereas the drive to pay more attention to what's really occurring outside must start from within in goal-oriented fashion.
About a week ago, my principal happened to come in during my math centers. It was a Friday, and I was conquering the mindset of wanting to escape and having time to absorb the happenings of the week. As I sat working with a small group at my table, I could already sense the purpose of the pop-in. "Good morning", I uttered. "Good Morning; boys and girls, I was coming down the hallway and I thought that third-grade might be having indoor recess. Let's please remember to use our indoor voices when we're in class". At that moment, my reflexive reply was, "Thank you for letting us know." As red-faced as I felt, I also meant what I said. I needed to be reminded that my attention needed to continue to be directed towards this one classroom management aspect, which I'm still working on with my class - noise level during independent and group work. I have a lively bunch with much to say - a beautiful thing, if you have an effective checks and balance system in place. I vented that day to one of my fellow, veteran teachers. When our paths crossed again about a week later, she mentioned that she had a tool for me to try - a "yacker tracker", apparently rather common but not one with which I'm familiar. Gratitude again for the selfless attention paid by my fellow teachers toward my own needs.
Reflection and problem-solving is one thing. Fretting and mulling over every single hiccup and imperfection in the day, whether it be related to methodology or events outside a teacher's control, is another. When the room empties out at the end of the day and the energy is still a swirling entity, I find that using the 20 minutes afterwards to turn on soothing (or whatever the moment inspires) tunes, tidy up the room, organize, and silently let thoughts enter and leave my brain is a healthy balancing act. I still strive, a little bit every day, towards more proactive reflecting, whether in my own company or with fellow teachers or other supportive individuals, eventually turning that attention away from my own feelings and towards making a difference.
An even more refined, outward attention in which a teacher takes direction from students can make a difference. Instead of thinking only about how I should do something in a particular situation, or focusing on the thought that I have no idea what to do, I aspire to do more tuning into and responding to students' feelings and ideas. Is there a particular student who's really struggling and looking for help in a particular area, whether through verbal or nonverbal cues? This should be a primary focus of attention, a call to tune into my professional knowledge bank and flex my search muscles in looking for resources. After contacting a parent, I recently had a student write me an apology note for losing his spelling notebook and not completing his assignments. Though this student does need to work on organization, he also in slightly large and sprawling handwriting mentioned that he thought it would be a good idea to post the weekly spelling assignment list on the class website. I hadn't thought of doing this, though it makes perfect sense and would clearly help students who don't always remember to bring everything home.
I have another student who has written me a messages from time to time on her papers or whiteboard, "I don't understand" or "I need help". Sometimes her messages or ones of self-deprecation, which I have already expressed does not have a place in our classroom; but that statement in itself is not a solution. There is clearly more going on, and this particular student needs a different kind of attention and scaffolding than I have been providing. Continuing to improve in paying attention to and being honest with my own approaches, and with my students' needs, is the most important element in the entire education equation. As much as teachers are in school to learn and grow, we are primarily there to serve our students. That is the overarching point and purpose, the potential rainbow at the end of every storm. Turning our attention out and towards specific solutions to be tried and tried again is where we must end at the close of each day, declaring "What will I do tomorrow to make this classroom a better place to learn?"