This post from another education blog that I follow (which is really worth following if you’re a teacher, or involved in education at all) got me thinking about the ‘leaky sinks’ in every environment in education.
In case you don’t have time to read the post, the gist is this: in every school (and you can expand this to any group situation), there’s a ‘leaky sink’ – that one annoying issue that’s hung around for years. By fixing that one thing, it’s possible to improve the entire environment, even if it is a tiny annoyance.
Instantly, I thought about students.
I believe, upon reflection, that many classrooms have their own individual ‘leaky sinks’. Sometimes it’s that one student who always pushes things with sarcastic jokes that are just short of being disrespectful, and as a result never quite make it to the level of needing a discipline/management solution. Sometimes it’s that fact that you have never quite managed to get the necessary knowledge to fix a recurring computer issue that IT hasn’t been able to stop cropping up occasionally. Whatever the case, it has the effect of gradually increasing stress on the entire class as the year goes on.
In fact, some of these classes have had these ‘leaky sinks’ for years, especially when it is a student-based personality or behaviour conflict. A poisonous mix occasionally results that persists from year to year.
As a teacher, you want to be the one who fixes these sinks. You want to be the one who manages to ‘save’ the students from drudgery, frustration, or just plain boredom. You think “if I can only do this, then everything will fall into place for all of these students”. This is a laudable goal, and we should all be looking for opportunities to do that.
However, if there’s one thing my practicum experiences have taught me, it’s that you can’t care that much about everyone. Are there situations where you see a new solution that no one has tried before? Sure. Does that sometimes lead to a revitalization of learning? Absolutely. However, it can’t be the end of the world when it does fail (and believe me, it will fail at some point).
There are certain combinations of student, class situation, and workloads that mean that not every student can be ‘saved’. I don’t mean that there are some students who can’t learn – I strongly believe that all students are capable of learning. It’s just that we can fall victim to the ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ curse. In our efforts to save all, we can actually dilute the education for all, because we simply can’t do everything.
I think for people like myself who have made a career out of helping the most people possible, this is the hardest lesson, both in terms of practice and in terms of the mental/spiritual toll it takes. Sometimes, you have to pick and choose. Sometimes, it’s okay to say “I will help that one person, and then pick another one”.
Because if every teacher, parent, lawyer, doctor, or whatever job you have, attempted the same, we truly can change the world en masse. And even if we don’t all do it, I can still make a difference in the life of that one child that goes on to live a happier, more successful life. Sometimes I have to accept that a difference in one life is enough. One change makes the difference.
And I’m okay with that.