396. Organization and Predictability

I feel funny writing an article about organization and predictability. I never felt as if they were my strong points as a teacher. There were times, as a teacher, when I tried to convince myself that they weren’t so important. And there were days, weeks, even years when I rose above my natural tendency to “wing it” and got my act together, predictably giving math homework every Wednesday, a spelling test every Friday, putting my lesson plans for the week on the bulletin board every Monday morning, and even following them.
I thought I was giving in to “the system” just to keep conservative parents from getting upset with me. I wanted to be spontaneous, free to respond to every teachable moment that happened. I wanted to involve children in my planning, and though that can be done in ways that maintain the basic structure of teaching and learning time, I was not as skilled at doing that as some teachers I’ve observed. Wanting to believe that I was a good teacher (and I do believe it), I tried to convince myself that it wasn’t really so important to have everybody know what was going to come next.
Now, as a volunteer, I work with all kinds of teachers. What those teachers do with their classes inspires lots of articles. I also work with children, and at
long last, I get to see how teaching looks to children. For example, I used to think that I was giving my whole class a gift if, on Friday, I announced that there would be no spelling test after all. When I made such an announcement, I invariably heard a cheer. What I didn’t hear as loudly was the quiet groan coming from the child who had studied the spelling words for an hour Thursday night, and felt ready to take the test. That child may have had trouble with spelling – may have only been able to remember those spellings until Friday night. Whether or not such a ritual really teaches spelling, it must do something to children’s attitudes toward work.
When I work with a teacher who is disorganized, I realize what it was sometimes like to work with me, or to have me for a teacher. I remember volunteering in the class of one teacher who had trouble planning work children could do (trouble I often had). She liked to meet with the class on the rug and have talks (as I often did), and if she’d assigned work that some children couldn’t do, she told such children that they’d meet with me, one at a time, while she met with the whole class on the rug. Or I’d stay in during recess with a child who hadn’t gotten the work done. Ironically, my role was to compensate for this teacher’s lack of organization. As for me, I’d rather have met with children on the rug, or gone out to recess with them. I don’t believe in an afterlife during which we pay for our earthly sins, but it did feel that way, a little.
I have also worked with teachers who, in my view, have let organization become a tyrant. But there are many teachers who have found
ways to balance structure and spontaneity. So I know it can be done.

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