The word “growth” is a major buzzword within the education realm, especially pertaining to testing. Through assessing students and analyzing the numbers, teachers are expected to track student growth during the school year.
So much of my second student teaching experience has focused on growth. The students must show growth in order to proceed in their educational experience and the teachers must prove that their instruction can cause students to grow in their academic knowledge and understanding. This growth must be proven through effective lessons and testing and assignments.
This intense focus on my students’ growth the past five weeks has caused me to think about growth in a different way, because often times progress is not the linear process we expect it to be.
The students I work with struggle in reading and writing. They have been intentionally grouped into classes geared to focus on their struggles with the hopes of building their abilities to master specific concepts related to different standards in language arts.
Teaching these classes has been a different type of experience for me. I’ve had to intensely focus in on basic reading and writing strategies and figure out how teach them several different ways while being creative, fun, and energetic, because, well, I’m teaching middle schoolers and they require energy in order to (hopefully) stay focused.
What I’ve realized throughout this experience is that no matter how well I’ve taught a lesson or how slowly and clearly I’ve explained a seemingly simple concept, there will always be students who don’t understand or who fail.
The growth process isn’t simply teaching a concept while the students instantly master it. It’s one filled with failure and setbacks and misunderstandings. It’s filled with days of not paying attention and staring out the window instead of listening. It’s one of blank looks and jumbled words, frustrations and interruptions and ridiculously random jokes.
The growth process is filled with forgetting and relearning over and over and over again, hoping for some new revelation the during the eleventh time reviewing the concept.
But then there are the moments where it clicks. Where the student, through all the mishaps and grievances along the way, finally gets it, finally understands that concept they agonized over, finally realizes what learning process works for them. These moments are arguably some of the most rewarding for teachers, to watch the student move forward, even if by an unconventional process.
So while I’ve been focusing on the growth of my students in their academic careers, this experience has caused me to reflect on my own growth personally in the past year.
I think we expect our progress from year to year to look like this linear thing, gradually improving to what we think we need to be or need to know. We expect our lives to look better and better, but the reality of life and growth is that most of the time we find ourselves in different places than we anticipated.
We discover new passions or realize that we aren’t as passionate about the things we thought we were. We change our minds and redirect our steps and sometimes get stuck on things that we shouldn’t. We forget important lessons we’ve learned a hundred times, having to find our way back to rediscover truths that, once again, transform our actions towards things that matter.
And through the setbacks, through the failures and confused stares and shaking our fists at God because we feel like we just aren’t getting it, we still move forward. We still find the moments of revelation that give us hope and realize we actually have learned, just in a different way than we anticipated.
We serve a God who uses our failures for good and turns our ashes into beauty. He allows us to learn and to be refined through our mistakes and our misunderstandings, even if we think we’ve failed every test along the way.
Most of the time growth doesn’t look like instant, linear progress. Oftentimes it looks like failure and forgetfulness and giving up. I urge you to just keep going, just keep learning and engaging in the lessons you are being taught through your unanticipated experiences and struggles. There is good in those spaces, reminders you needed and unconventional blessings provided by the Lord.
Discover your own learning process, lean into the things that are happening in your life and wrestle towards improvement, even if it feels like you’re getting lost along the way. Know that you are moving forward because the Lord is bringing you there and know that it might not be in the linear way you expect.