Driving while distracted is a crime. When you are driving a car, there are too many things to pay attention to at once. Are there fewer things to attend to as you teach a class? When I find myself distracted while teaching, I bring my attention back to what I am there to do: I am there to be a teacher. Being a teacher is one of my roles in life. It’s my other roles that can be the distraction, and I find that some of them are harder to distinguish and set aside.
One role is Uninvolved Bystander. Not everything at school is my job, but sometimes my assistance could make a difference. It’s easy to be right that I’m not responsible for a situation, but at school I am a teacher. It’s professional and kind to jump in and take responsibility. I often do a good job of jumping in, I think. For instance, when a sub is in a class, I try not to walk on by if I see them having trouble. After all, their class is my class sometimes. I can make a difference.
Another role is Fun Guy. I like kids and enjoy playing and laughing. This can be an asset in getting kids on my side and developing positive relationships, but I need to remember that in school I am their teacher. I don’t pick students up or initiate hugs, like I might my nieces and nephews. I have caught myself laughing at a kid’s antics in class and then regretting it when my laughter encouraged them to continue the behavior.
Another is Human Being With Feelings. It’s only in Grade 4 where the Washington Arts Learning Standards for music, which include the National Core Arts standards, begin to state that students shall:
Maintain focus and attention, avoid participation in distracting and inappropriate behaviors, and comment/respond appropriately while experiencing music.
Occasionally, I catch myself getting frustrated with a class for not maintaining focus and attention, rather than taking a look at how I did not engage their focus and attention. It felt like I was a human being and they needed to be more considerate of my feelings. This is not a human rights issue, though. If a class is unruly, I can’t sue them, ask Congress to pass a law enforcing their compliance, or tell my administrators I need a new group. I am a teacher. If they are not following expectations, I need to more clearly teach expectations and then hold to the behavior policy of the room and the school. It is not personal. They have their role, and I have mine.
A similar place I get stuck is in the role of Teacher of First Through Fifth Graders when I am in a room full of Kindergarteners. Every older grade has had a wealth of experience in my room and understand what is expected. With Kindergarteners, I have to catch myself thinking, “We’ve been through this. They ought to know how to act.” I am about to meet a whole new group of them and I have to remember that I am their TEACHER. They do not come to school on the first day already knowing how to behave in a group, in a room, in their seat, in the bathroom, in the hallway, in the… Rather than getting frustrated with them, I have to teach them these expectations. And then reteach. And then teach again.
Here’s another role into which I easily slip: Theatre Director at Showtime. I spent a large part of my professional career working in live theatre. When we are down to the wire and I have two hours in the performance space to work through the whole show, I can be very frustrated with the unprofessional behavior of 5-11 year olds. I am fortunate in these instances to have the support of the whole staff of our school, who take the project on as a whole-school commitment. Getting ready for our spring concert last year, I found myself hyper-aware of the talking going on around me and kept insisting on quiet. Our Assistant Principal gently interrupted me and retaught expectations to the student body. She did this with generosity and understanding, and I felt nothing but supported. I took it as a reminder to remember that I am a teacher.
Where do you get distracted? When are you likely to be attending to a different role in your life, instead of the role at hand? I am convinced that I am not alone in this.