Thursday, February 23, 2012

Are My Expectations Ruining My Day?

A couple of ideas have been stuck in my head the past couple of days. One is a quote I used in my classes as a short writing prompt:

Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.
~Abigail Adams

The other is the idea of expectations. This too came from a discussion I've had recently with my students. We were talking about the things that affect our perspective. It was easy for all of us to see that expectations of an event or interaction has a powerful impact on our perception of it.

So these two ideas have bounced around in my head for about twenty-four hours, and since there is very little else in my head, it was only a matter of time before they eventually collided. I've had so many learning experiences in which I've "sought" learning "with ardor", and it is an incredible experience every time it happens. I've seen some students experience this in my class, but it is far more rare. Because it so rarely happens in my class, and I firmly believe it is possible and should happen (You could say I have an expectation that it will happen), I tend to get disappointed. The reality of my students' learning doesn't match my expectation, so my perception tends to be that I am failing my students. My class must not be challenging or engaging because 100% of my students are not inspired to actively engage in the learning process 100% of the time.

When I manage to jump off of the hamster wheel long enough to think about this, it really bothers me. As an educator, I put a tremendous amount of pressure on myself to make learning this wonderful, even magical, experience for all of my students. I know that I am not alone, because as I watch the education reform debate unfold, I see an incredible willingness of my fellow educators to accept massive amounts of blame for the students who fail to learn. Don't get me wrong, we should never stop trying to reach every student, but when I read comments and hear conversations in which teacher react to students failing, I hate hearing it turn into a feeling on helplessness on the part of the teacher, and I realize I do the same thing. As a profession, I think our enthusiasm for student learning sometimes causes us to have unrealistic expectations about outcomes, and when those expectations aren't met, we tend to have the perception that we've massively failed.

Do not misunderstand me. I am not advocating for lower expectations for ourselves or our students. If anything, this is just a reminder to me to step back occasionally and try to get a better handle on my expectations and how well I really am meeting them on a daily basis. I need to keep myself from dwelling on each student who fails as an indication that I am ineffective, and I need to spend more time understanding the little victories I achieve on a daily basis. I don't need to change my expectations, I just need to make sure I am looking at them in a way that allows me to achieve a better perception.