This week I covered a unit on fairy tales. As my students brainstormed all the fairy tales they had ever read, I realized that sometimes my role is to be my classroom’s fairy godmother: perky, cheerful, bestowing little nuggets of knowledge into my students’ receptive (if not always eager) minds.
My room feels even more like a living fairy tale when one of my little friends refuses to answer a question unless we add “Princess” to her name — and I can’t even make up the fact that sometimes she wears a tiara to school (I might, too, if I could get away with it). And I conjure Cinderella as I frantically try to fit little gym shoes on little impatient feet before PE; one boy thought it was hilarious that I called him “Cinderfella.”
Some days I am so beloved that one student actually exclaimed, “Miss M, I love you more than chocolate cake!” That’s a serious compliment from a second grader. And other days . . . well, apparently I am meaner and nastier than any evil stepmother, warts and all.
My class has been settling into new routines, with new successes every day. I love the magic of the moment when a student does something new that I’ve taught them. I was so proud when my littlest guy, who only got one word right on that first spelling test in August, got all ten grade-level spelling words right on last week’s test. He was so proud to see this represented on his self-monitoring graph. When another student who typically cries before any daunting task said, “I love reading tests! I know I can do this!” I wanted to cry, too. If my student with selective mutism would only talk to me, I’d call it a day.
But not every fairy tale has a happy ending. I’ve recently had to confront my own limitations. As someone who formerly taught at an alternative school for students with emotional disabilities, I swore when I moved to a self-contained setting in a general education building that I would never send a student to an alternative placement. No matter how hard things got, I reasoned, I could always handle it. Somehow, I’d make things work.
Unfortunately, I’ve realized that there are some situations I can’t solve. I have no magic wand. All I have is my bag of tricks, my determination, and my willingness to go above and beyond. I have the most amazing team in the world and it is never from lack of effort, skill, or love that we don’t succeed. We’ve sat at the table for long periods of time trying to help every student who comes through our door. Now, we’ve decided that some situations require more than we can provide.
For me, this is a hard blow. I take it personally when I can’t find a solution. Instead of a magic mirror telling me I am the “fairest teacher of them all,” the only reflection I see is of me, a little less powerful than I once thought I was.
Being a self-reflective person, I often wrack my brain wondering what I can do to improve my teaching. In this particular situation, I know I gave it my all, but that doesn’t really take the sting out. As much as I’d like my fairy tale ending, the reality is I’m only human. I’ll have to learn to accept this, but I don’t think I’ll ever like it. And I hope I don’t; the minute I stop striving for perfection is the minute I should retire.
There is an expression, “Shoot for the moon — even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” Like any teacher, I feel like I’m laying the foundation so that one day, I can look at my former students and say they all lived happily ever after.