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Entry date: 4-27-2022 - What Do You Wish For? Letters to My (teacher) Friends

Dear Friends,

The other day, we read the story of Aladdin in class. I had my students do a small group activity where they had to say whether they would wish for the same things as Aladdin. They also had to make a short list of wishes and give a reason why they would wish for this or that. It was very interesting.

They had to come up with at least five wishes and explanations. This was hard for some of them, not because they didn’t have five wishes, but because it requires more focus than they are capable of, even in 30 minutes. I gave them five minutes to talk before they were to start writing and then 25 minutes to write their list.

If I had a magic lamp, I might wish for my students to be able to focus on something for longer than two seconds. That seems like a silly wish but if you think about giving the gift of focus to someone, you might be saving their life. You would, for sure, be enriching their life because focus is hard.

Yesterday I wrote about being afraid to succeed. I wonder if people are afraid to focus. We live in a world filled with distraction. I’ve concluded that most of the distractions are carefully engineered ways to keep us in line. Imagine if we really are some sort of experiment being conducted by alien overlords. They would want to keep us somewhat distracted.

I’m easily distracted. In fact, you don’t have to read too many of these to see blatant examples of how distracted I can become by even the slightest thing. I also like a good running joke, so there is that, and one way to make a running joke funny is to distract your audience from it for awhile so it’s even funnier when you bring it up again.

Maybe my grand plan with this site is to be yet another distraction (it’s not). Yet, it has become a distraction for a few people and hopefully a few more and then a few more and then everyone on the planet. We like being distracted. It saves us from the reality of our day. I can’t let myself get distracted, though, from talking about the importance of focus.

My students all got a chance to share some of their wishes. Some would break your heart. One young man wished for food because he and his mom don’t have very much food. I saw several knowing looks for that one. Another said he wished for money for his mom because she never has enough of it. I saw more knowing looks. Hell, I know that feeling well. There never does seem to be enough yet I’ve been very fortunate, just the same. Some of my students were really focused on what each other were saying.

Others, though, could not seem to focus and I think it comes down to them not having the luxury of wishing for things anymore. Why would I listen to what someone else is wishing for when my own wishes probably never come true? I’m just riffing here, but it makes sense. Why would I focus on a lesson at school when knowing this stuff might not ever impact my life in a meaningful way? They can’t yet see how knowledge can put food on a table or achievement in school can help them get a bit ahead at some point in their life.

As a big believer in social and emotional learning, I am convinced that a student who can recognize their feelings, practice some empathy, and understand some basic problem solving will do better when it comes to focusing. We all have to be able to regulate our emotions if we want to focus on a task. If I gave into my various whims during the day, I’d struggle to get anything done.

It’s no wonder to me that many of my students struggle to get their classwork done in a timely manner. At eight years old, many haven’t had good examples of someone in their life who was somewhat self-aware. I know because I’ve met all their parents. Self-regulation is not the strong point of many of their role models so how can I expect them to be even slightly adept at it from 7:30am to 3:45?

This feels like a bitch session to me. I apologize for that. I’m 168 days into a 200-day school year. I’ve got kids who are feeling the same pain I do each day. The days are too long, and this school year should be ending in 12 days, not 32. The almighty dollar, though, which pays my salary, dictates that our babysitting service (with the added bonus of a little learning) stays open a little longer than the others.

It’s really no wonder that none of us can properly focus anymore on the task at hand. Even trying to breathe some fresh life into the classroom is met with skeptical looks and blank stares. I don’t even believe half of the things I’m saying, at this point, so why should they? It often feels like it is me against them, but really, it’s all of us against the soul crushing lack of resources that is our educational system. I’ve got just enough tools to keep us treading water, but my bilge pump is starting to smoke and sputter.

As I reflect on the wish assignment, I do know how I would make it better next time. During the story, I will stop more and ask the students to think about and share what Aladdin was feeling when he made his wishes. I will ask, “What were his real motivations? What did he not consider?” I think this could help them make the leap to considering their own wishes and why they would make them, given the chance.

One student said, “I would wish for all the Pokemon cards in the world.” When I asked him why, he said, “So I can sell them.” I smiled at him and said, “But if your wish was granted, no one would buy a card from you because it would end up right back with you. That’s the way magic works.”

He said, “Well, I would just unwish it.”

See you tomorrow.

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