Throughout my teaching career, new ideas and opportunities scream out, “Try me!” and, if I believe my students will benefit, I’m ready to try, learn, reevaluate, and tweak, just as a researcher does. So when I read, This school year is an experiment, it surprised me that it was another one of those statements that was meant to alleviate my anxiety but instead caused me to be angry.
Because failure is not an option.
I am not the stereotypical scientist wearing a white lab coat and safety goggles staring through a microscope into a petri dish. I’m a teacher preparing to teach in a physical and virtual classroom.
It is true that when I’m in my physical classroom, I’ll be wearing similar safety equipment.
It is true that even before the pandemic, my physical classroom was a petri dish of students innocently (I hope) virus and germ sharing.
It is also true that I call my classroom the “Literacy Lab” because my students and I experiment with words, putting them in different order, substituting one over another, experimenting to find the best way to convey our messages to others.
But I don’t think of my teaching during this global pandemic as an experiment.
#1: I’m not trying to prove a hypothesis.
I do conduct research while teaching. In education, formalized research is sometimes called action-research, and I’ve done that. But, even if I don’t formalize my research, I’m still examining evidence. I’m constantly assessing how my students are doing academically, socially, and emotionally. Based on the evidence I gather, I adjust.
#2: Variables I Can’t Control: I don’t need to list them because anyone that is familiar with education debates knows that the number of variables out of a teacher’s control is innumerable. Here’s a few typically brought into discussion: parental support, SES, race, zip code, and hormones (remember I teach middle schoolers). This year even if I could control those variables, the virus is a BIG, UNCONTROLLED variable causing known and unknown effects.
#3: Failure is not an option.
I know there will be mistakes this school year, just like every other year I’ve taught. If not, then I’m not challenging myself or my students enough. But to me, the mistakes I expect to see in my classroom aren’t the same as a science experiment failing. I’m not okay with one plant doing better than the others because I gave it a different kind of fertilizer. I need all of my students to learn and grow. And maybe that’s why I don’t want to think of the school year as an experiment. I want to keep the promise I share with every student at the beginning of every year: If you give me a chance and participate in Literacy Lab hour, you might not learn to love reading and writing, but you’ll also not fail.
*There are statements about school during the global pandemic that I hear or read that nag at me. In the hopes that I can find the root of my discomfort with each, I’m “writing to learn.” Some of what I’m learning, I’ve decided to share publicly on my blog. This is one.