Monday, December 10, 2012

Lessons from Church

This past Saturday was Liam’s First Reconciliation at our church. We’re Catholic and that basically boils down to his first confession. He and I have practiced what confession is, said the prayers to say, and the order of events during confession several times over the past few weeks. While Luke had been nervous when he went the first time, Liam was excited. Our priest is fabulous when it comes to communicating with children and really seemed to put them all at ease. When Liam came out he looked at me and flashed a huge grin.

Then it was our turn. The adults get to head back to confession. I quickly went over the steps in my own head, nervously wondering if I would forget what to do. I recited the Act of Contrition to myself several times. I thought over what I needed to confess to my priest. Over and over I went over what I was supposed to do, what I was supposed to say.

And then it was my turn. I walked into the room and Father smiled and asked me how I was doing. I tried to go through my steps and he humored me, let me rattle off some items. But then he really looked at me and asked what was on my mind.

I confessed the struggle with anxiety that I’ve talked about here. He listened, really listened. He mentioned that I seemed to be a person who likes to be in control – not a control freak but someone who needs to know how everything is going and that I am helping to steer the ship.
J Yep, bingo. We talked about the need to let that go. He recommended praying the Serenity Prayer over and over until it was basically my mantra.

I left that room feeling lighter than I had in years. And as I sat in the car driving towards Chicago I really thought about it. What lessons could I take from this? There are many things I immediately thought of related to teaching. The fact that I was trying to follow a scripted formula when I went to confession – if I had stuck to that “list” of what I felt I was supposed to say, we wouldn’t have gotten to the heart of the matter. Nothing would have really changed and there would have been no deeper learning, no deeper meaning. Something smacks of test prep here, don’t you think?

But also, I cannot forget Father’s eyes when I was speaking – he truly listened. I never felt that he had a rote response ready to hand off to each person who came in the room but really listened to each person, made an individual recommendation for where they were and where they needed to go – which is exactly what my aim is during conferring in the reading and writing workshop.

One-size fits all formulas don’t work for me and neither do boxed programs. Teri Lesesne has been writing up a storm this past weekend, discussing “unprograms” and all that they entail. (Her first post on this thought is HERE) This is the program I’m choosing. Deep conversations over books we love. Conferences where we get lost in a conversation. Meeting my students where they are and taking them where they need to go. Scripted formulas might help students score well on standardized tests but they are not where the true learning lies. 

Slice of Life is sponsored every Tuesday by Stacey and Ruth from Two Writing Teachers.