Another Look

I like optical illusions. How, I wonder, can the blink of my eye change what was a rabbit into a duck? After all, the lines haven’t change. But, in some way I don’t understand, my perception changes.

About halfway through my career, I started thinking about students as optical illusions. If how I saw them wasn’t working, I’d try looking from another angle, changing the tilt of my head to get a new view.

Take, for example, the seventh-period class I had one year. Maybe it was because I had already taught all day. Maybe it was because the students had used up their goodness in their other classes. Whatever the reason, this class sapped more of my energy than all the other periods combined.

Even starting class was an ordeal. They’d pile into my room riled from a tussle in the hallway or a pen someone stole or a cell phone a teacher confiscated in the last class or a likely fight after school. Every lesson took twice the explaining for half the result. And the noise level, even when they tried to be quiet, exhausted me.

Blink, I’d tell myself, then open your eyes and see a different way. When I did this, when I looked more closely, I noticed what I hadn’t seen before. Aaron, who goaded the others, was also afraid to go home at night and, besides, he often chose Jeff, who didn’t smell so good, for a partner. Alan, who said he hated school, had also given up competing with his twin brother in the gifted program and around the edges of his papers he drew striking pictures. Kira, who couldn’t write one good sentence, also came to school hungry, and she often made insightful comments in class.

There is always more than one way to look at things. And how I viewed students, I found, was a choice. If I looked at them with a softened gaze, in a way that worked best for them, they turned toward me and toward learning.

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