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Virginia Journal of Education


Gone Fishin' -- With a Purpose

The summer break gives one Virginia educator an opportunity to step back and take a closer look at his teaching.


by Chuck Way

It’s mid-June and the water of Passage Creek is still cool, with a healthy flow. A few trout remain in my favorite stretch of this Warren County stream. By this time of year most of the trout are gone, but then again so are most of the anglers. I am alone; the stream and its fish are mine for the day. I am more than grateful to be here. I’m free to reflect, to plan, to self-evaluate and, yes, free to fish. What a gift we in education have been afforded—time away from the daily challenge of meeting the many needs of our students. It is during this time, when our minds are free from the daily regimen, that we can recharge our internal batteries to once again meet those needs.

Freedom to reflect. Only after the permanent records are finished, room neatly "summerized," and my students are enjoying vacation can I reflect on the past school year. What accomplishments am I proud of? What was done well? Did I reach the reluctant learners in my class? Were the hard-to-please parents satisfied with the year their child had in my room? Was I a helpful and valued colleague to my fellow teachers? Did I try anything new?

Now I am free to reflect and answer these as well as many other questions. If I don’t like some of the honest answers I can start the new school year with renewed resolve.
              
Freedom to plan. A successful school year doesn’t just happen, at least not for me. I must try to think ahead about challenges and projects to come.

In recent years I have enjoyed implementing an environmental watershed project developed by Trout Unlimited. The project centers around raising young trout in the classroom. Thus the name Trout in the Classroom, or TIC. During the course of the project, students help take care of a tank full of fragile young trout. This is a labor-intensive task given that trout require cold, clean water. Many topics are covered throughout the project, including global warming, acid rain, pollution and watershed protection. It’s a valuable learning experience that seems to get better every year, if I plan.

Challenging students come through my door every year. Of this I am certain. Some of them I will know by name before the first day of school begins. In a small system, teachers are keenly aware of next year’s group of students. Knowing the challenges that await and having time beforehand allows the anxiety to subside so a plan can take form. Of course, things don’t always go according to that plan, but it helps.

Freedom to self-evaluate. Everyone enjoys a complimentary evaluation from a principal or other supervisor. High marks and flattering comments help us all to feel valued for the service we provide. But I wonder if any principal, anywhere, can really know the sum total of what I have done over the course of the school year. Supervisors can only stop in to observe every so often and only for so long. Other responsibilities dictate that they must move on. Only I really know the job I have done. Furthermore, only I can make real improvements in the areas that need improving.

Now I have the freedom to evaluate my own performance. I’m free to evaluate what might have gone wrong and what needs attention. The rigor of day-to-day teaching doesn’t often allow such freedom. Some days during the school year I deem myself successful if I haven’t run to Alaska to take up full-time residence as a crab fisherman. Now I can gauge my performance clearly and make improvement.

The freedom I have been given this summer will be used to reflect, to plan and to self-evaluate. When the next school year begins I will be better, improved and ready. It’s my hope that all of us who work in education enjoy and use the freedom of vacation. We not only deserve it; we need it.

I’ve just caught a rise out of the corner of my eye. He’s in the next pool near the end of the riffle. Maybe he’ll take a Light Cahill. Ah, freedom!

Way (chuckway@rappahannock.k12.va.us), a member of the Rappahannock County Education Association, teaches fifth grade at Rappahannock County Elementary School.

 


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