19 September 2010

Thinking "Ish-ly"

Last Tuesday, my fifth grade students and I shared a reading of Peter Reynolds' Ish. The book tells the tale of Ramon who loves to draw, but, after his older brother Leon makes fun of his drawings, begins to believe that he can't draw well. Thankfully, Ramon's younger sister, Marisol, helps him to see his drawings differently and he begins to see the "ish-ness" in everything around him.

My students had heard Ish last year when my fourth grade colleagues and I read it at the beginning of the year as a part of our community building. That fact didn't deter their enthusiasm of sharing their thoughts while I read it, or in discussing what working "ish-ly" in our class would look like and how we would need to support one another in order to work "ish-ly."

Some of you may know that I moved from teaching fourth grade to fifth grade this year. Our building went from three sections of fourth grade to two, so someone had to make the switch. I didn't think it would be a big switch. I am in the same classroom, have a third of my same students, and felt like we could just pick up where we left off last year. In many respects, I was correct. My students from last year jumped right into the same routines and have helped those who are new to my classroom. Yet, my standard line from the past week is that "I severely underestimated the amount of work that goes into switching grades."

To summarize the state of my being early last week, I would simply say I was stressed. Nothing seemed to be working, I seemed to be falling behind in everything, and I felt like I had lost the art of teaching. Then on Wednesday, it hit me. I was like Ramon. I felt like I had Leon looking over my shoulder all day, making comments about what was happening in my classroom. I couldn't think clearly because my brain was in a state of panic wondering how I was going to ever recover from this switch.

So, I began to think "ish-ly." I gave myself permission to not know every little detail of 5th grade curriculum at the present time, permission to take things step-by-step, permission to make a pile of items to get back to at another time. Suddenly, everything fell into place. Looking back, I'm sure everything was going along fine before my thinking "ish-ly." All of those "seemed" and "felt" emotions from the previous paragraph were simply in my head. Yet, it took a little book to remind me to stop being a perfectionist and to look around and see the "ish-ness" in my students and my work.

If you're in the world of education, I hope that this finds you well in the new school year. If you happen to be feeling swamped by it all, I encourage you to pick up a copy of Ish. Maybe with a little "ish-ful" thinking you'll find you're doing quite well.