By Maryellen Kenney
There is never enough time in a teacher’s life. We are highly functioning, incredibly dedicated professionals who, at some point, come to accept that there are only 24 hours in our day and we really need 25. Over time, we hone our craft to include only the most important, most valuable practices that best serve us. Reflection is one of those essential practices.
Most people think reflection occurs after the fact, at the end of the unit, after the first marking period is over, during semester break over the summer. It can and does happen then, but not only then. Reflection is ongoing.
For me, it starts right away and in the gut. I know how successful the lesson is by how my insides feel even as the lesson is unfolding. The students’ expressions, their level of engagement, the on- or off-task chatter, and the timber of their voices tell me how things are going. All too soon the period ends, the classroom is emptying you, and already I am making decisions about how I will adjust before the next group piles in.
Now I move from the gut to the brain. At the end of the day I look at what has transpired in my classes, consider what I’ve planned for tomorrow, and, with a few notations, adjust tomorrow’s plan to reflect where the students are and where I want them to go. Mining my reservoir of experience, I pick and choose from among myriad approaches and activities and pick out a few that are gold-standard. There! Let’s try that tomorrow!
Driving home from school, preparing dinner, walking the dog, I am aware that somewhere in the back of my brain I am still working on that reflective piece even as I am present for my family and pick up the tempo of my personal life. A word from an email, a sound bite from a late night newscast and, whoosh, that back-burner marinating comes to the forefront for a brief moment of reflection.
In the quiet of my classroom at the end of the week, I take time to thoughtfully consider my practice. I must do this in order to avoid useless and non-productive effort. It keeps me one step ahead of the clock.
Maryellen Kenney is a teacher at Upper Moreland High School in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. She is a 2001 Fellow and Co-Director of the Summer Writing Institute. She loves to take long walks, camp, fish, and kayak and reflect on it all with a good glass of wine and her writer’s notebook.