O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the LORD
from this time forth and forevermore.
I came across this short psalm the other day and was struck by a seeming incongruity. As a believer, I know that I’m not supposed to do anything out of “selfish ambition or vain conceit”—yet surely, in the sincere service of the Lord, I can hope for “great” and “marvelous” things. Isn’t the moral of the parable of the talents that we’re supposed to take the gifts that God gives us and multiply them as good and faithful servants? Bringing it closer to home, is it wrong of me to have lofty goals for my kids, to envision a rewarding and successful future for them, and to imagine a nation with truly equal opportunities for all students?
I don’t think it’s wrong, but I do think something important is lost when we charge forward waving the banner of educational equity, often at the expense of health and sanity, without taking the time to reflect and reassess. I think of God’s proclamation spoken through the psalmist, “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” I remember Jesus’s words in the Sermon on the Mount, “But seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added to you.” How often do I get so caught up in unit/lesson planning, grading, creating minute-by-minute schedules, devising management strategies, complaining about circumstances, struggling to commit to the one or two things I do outside of school, on and on, ad nauseum, that I simply forget my reasons for teaching in the first place—and, more importantly, the One I’m called to love first and foremost?
I have a resolution for the new semester, one that trumps all my other resolutions: I want to calm and quiet my soul before Jesus. Don’t get me wrong, I have every intention of continuously increasing effectiveness and striving to become an excellent teacher, but not at the expense of growing in intimacy with God, who is my friend, father, and savior. Hopefully, the latter will lead to the former; indeed, He has said, “Work, for I am with you … My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not.”
For those of you who follow my blog semi-closely, you’ll notice that I’ve yet to share any assessment data following the rearrangement of desks in my classroom and increased emphasis on collaborative learning. Well, the unit exam results are in, and they’re definitely more encouraging than not. In my Math Lab blocks, which just finished a tough unit on trigonometric functions and the unit circle, the average was a 76% (80% in my T-2 block and 70% in my M-4 block). Drilling down further, I noticed that the T-2 average was depressed by one student’s anomalously low score, which was likely the result of some serious emotional trauma that she suffered in December (according to a fellow student). M-4 was more of a mixed bag, even though the students are more or less on the same level, which to me indicates the foolishness of not rotating the post-lunch, final block when the school day is already extended and classes are 80-100 minutes long. In any case, I am proud of my Math Lab kids and how well they collaborated to teach each other the material. Though I won’t have them after this week, I’m sure that they’ll do fine after they graduate this June.
In my Algebra 2 blocks, which just finished an even tougher unit on quadratic functions (a topic that they have apparently never seen before due to a gap in the curriculum), the average was a 67% (68% in M-1, 70% in M-2, and 63% in T-4). Ignoring the same frustrating final-block effect, I noticed something incredible about individual results: students who normally do poorly on exams but happened to be sitting in the same table groups as high-achieving students during the unit saw their scores skyrocket. (And don’t worry, I separated the desks for the exam.) Consider the following examples: J., who scored 0% on the previous exam (and 31% on the retake), scored a 79% this time. I., who has averaged 63% on her exams all semester, scored a 89%. J.D., who rarely breaks double digits, scored a 68%. While overall achievement could still use some work, that’s more a function of my daily preparedness than overall lesson structure. One thing is for sure: I’m not giving up collaborative learning anytime soon.
I have more to say about my T-4 block and the steady deterioration of classroom management therein, but that will wait until my next update (after, perhaps, I’ve “reset” with them, as my MTLD keeps suggesting). For now, because I know that CMs look for every reason to procrastinate on Sunday night, here’s an amazing cover of A Thousand Miles that my friend linked on Facebook. Listen to it, you won’t be sorry.