Don’t Sweat The List

When MIND is WEAK, situation is problem. When MIND is balanced, situation is challenge. When MIND is strong, situation is opportunity.-2

When I worked at a traditional public school, my friend & colleague would wait…and wait… and wait…impatiently for it. During the month of August, she would check her mailbox everyday, sometimes twice a day hoping to spot it. She would stop at our school secretary’s desk, and ask “Is it ready?!”. She would wait in anticipation for that list. You know which one; THE class list. I never understood the hoopla surrounding the class list. What’s the big deal about that list anyway?

“Who do you have?!” she would ask as she tore the list out of my hands. I watched her eyes dart back and forth feverishly quick as she scanned the list.

“Awe, she’s a cutie pie. This one too! You will love her! ”

“That family is so nice, very supportive!”

“Oh …you got him…he’s trouble, watch out”

“You have 7 special needs kids and no aide…tough year for you!”

I heard what she said about my list, but I didnt pay any attention to her remarks. The names on the list are just that…names on a list. Some teachers spend hours analyzing why they ended up with who they ended up with. I don’t. I believe in fate. I’ve always believed that each learner is different in each and every classroom they enter, for each and every teacher they have, and in each and every group of students they are with. Why analyze?

It’s quite different preparing for a new school year as a cyber school teacher. There aren’t any classrooms to set up; no bulletin boards to do. We don’t wait in line to use the copier. Our set up is much less labor intensive, much less expensive too. However, we do have that list. That class list still brings much anxiety to teachers, even in the cyber school setting.

A few weeks ago, I overheard some teachers discussing their class lists. Each teacher was hopeful for a great bunch of learners, yet their tone of uncertainty was clear. Why were they anxious? What is it about a new group of learners, new families that get teachers worried? I pondered this for quite some time, coming to the conclusion that maybe their uncertainty had to do with a lack of self-confidence. You know, that little shadow of doubt deep within us. It usually peeks through around mid-August.

I did sweat my class list… once. I was teaching 1st grade. On the first day of school I was introduce to a student who never attended preschool, Pre-K, or Kindergarten. I was informed to teach both K and 1st grade curriculum, help her adjust to our setting & day. I worried about her and how accepting other students would be towards her. I remember some colleagues telling me not to do anything different or extra for her. “Treat her like you treat everyone else”, and “It’s not in our contract for you to work with her during these times”. Contract? Knowing what I know about this child, how could I even think of not helping her? How could I put a contract before her needs as a learner? My fear wasn’t a union contract, my fear was not doing enough for her. Can I do all this? Can I help her feel comfortable socially, emotionally, to achieve and accomplish all that we needed to? It was quite a challenge. Luckily, I like challenges.

She worked so hard learning letters, letter sounds, writing her name, identifying sight words. We worked together every chance we could. Maybe other teachers would be upset at a challenge like this, but I didn’t have time to think about that. This was an opportunity for me to challenge myself too. I never questioned why she was placed with me, I just kept focusing on the task at hand and her success and achievement. Her growth and progress was amazing! She left first grade reading on a Fountas and Pinnel level J reader. I will never forget the smile on her face as long as I live.

When I think about the many learners on those lists, I realize that they were placed in my room for a reason. Was I going to be teaching them an important life lesson? Would they be teaching me one? Thanks to each specific list of learners, I learned quite a bit about myself as a teacher. All of the class lists of students I had, helped to shape me into the teacher I am today. My confidence, my patience, my grit, empathy and love came from that list of learners. Each and every learner on that list played a very important part in my role as a teacher. Students on that list shape the teacher. They are our opportunity for change, for growth, for us to become better teachers.

What ever you do, do it to the purpose; do it thoroughly, not superficially. Go to the bottom of things. Anything half done, or half known, is in my mind, neither done nor known at all. Nay, worse, for it often misleads.” ~ Lord Chesterfield

As I think back to that day, overhearing my colleagues, I wish I had spoken up. I wish I had told them what talented educators they are. I wish I had told them that there’s no need to sweat the list because whatever learner comes their way, they would reach them, teach them, inspire and motivate them. I know they’re going to be up at night thinking and planning, writing and revising, correcting and grading, molding and shaping; working to the bone to ensure that their classroom of learners have every opportunity to be successful. I wish I had told them that list doesn’t matter. It’s not that list that ensures you a great class; it’s YOU as a teacher. It’s your acceptance and love for your students, meeting them where they are. It’s overcoming the challenges that present themselves and embracing each student and opportunity. This is what makes a great class and year.

Failure is An Option

“That’s not how Mrs. Sanchez did it in class! I’m going to get all confused if you help me! That’s not the right way!”

My daughter Sophia struggles in math. She will be entering 6th grade and every year she becomes frustrated while completing math homework. She often wants to solve problems the way her teacher has modeled it in class. Her notes are meticulous, and well organized. She tries over and over again to solve the problems. She is convinced that only one true method exists and her notes are a pathway to that successful solution. Although I was a Math major (undergrad) and have a Masters of Ed degree in both Reading and in Curriculum & Instruction, my assistance is unwanted. She sits annoyed, biting her pencil.

Fear of failure is one of the biggest obstacles my own children and students in my G&T cyber classroom face. Year after year, I see the hesitation to take risks, try something new and share their ideas. They are intently focused on being “right”, finding the “right”answers, and doing it the “right way”. Failure is such an important part of life and of learning. I can’t help but wonder, have we conditioned our learners to fear failure?

Are we grooming learners to only focus on correct answers?

Our current educational system is essentially a series of questions and responses. The all knowing teacher asks a question and our learners sift through information to find the “right” answer. From a learner’s first year of school we focus on that right answer. We give praise, shout outs, stickers, and high fives for a correct response.  Instead of focusing on the process of learning, we place emphasis on the product; that end-all-be-all “right” answer.

Often when a learner responds with a wrong answer, we pour on some shame of being incorrect by giving additional work. We ask our learners to review, reread, rewrite, or memorize some more. We say “You were close, but need to study more”.  With this method, we not only crush their self esteem, but we diminish their thirst for innovation. We flat line risk taking and we rob them of the opportunity to whole heartedly embrace their attempts at being vulnerable.  We’re telling our learners that making mistakes and taking risks (which might lead to failure) is shameful. This can restrict our learners creativity and imagination, leading to a fixation of always being “right”.

By focusing on correct answers, are we assisting our learners to reach their full potential?

Failure is such an important part of life. When I was a kid and tried out for sports, you either made the team or didn’t. If you were cut, you tried harder the following year. You practiced and honed those skills every chance you got. There is a sense of vulnerability when trying out for a team position. You put yourself out there. The risk of trying out, was real. It’s quite different now. In some districts, children automatically get a spot on the team; tryouts consist of just showing up. This “we all win”, “we all get a trophy” mentality is puzzling to me and I have questioned it a lot with my own children. Where is the challenge, the determination and the perseverance? Where is the practicing and learning of skills? Where is the resiliency and grit that attempting and failing provides?

 “Your biggest risk isn’t failing; it’s getting too comfortable.”

~ Drew Houston

As teachers, we constantly reinforce and correct learner behaviors.  We try and mold students into something we feel is academically sound, socially acceptable and age appropriate. This constant guiding, shaping and grooming is evident in our lessons and in our assessments. When we set up our learners to “play it safe” and answer correctly,  we short change them. We make it too comfortable for them. We are teaching them to fly under the radar, and to settle for the status quo. Where’s the learning and growth in that? Our learners need to think big, and push themselves out of their comfort zone. Great learning depends on great risk taking. Success is a part of a character building process, and learning from failure is a piece of the puzzle.


Many educators say, vulnerability leads to great innovation. As we begin developing this generation, we need to ask our learners to question, to be curious, and be risk takers. We need to tell them it’s OK to fail, and not to solely focus on their achievement. Our learners must have a no fear attitude. Experimentation will lead to empowerment and an accepting attitude towards vulnerability in and out of our classrooms. This will promote  confidence and courage in our learners, and enable innovative and creative thinking. When teachers allow experimentation, what they are saying is “we trust in you, we believe in your thinking and want you to feel confident with taking chances. Challenge the status quo and learn from the mistakes you make” This is a critical step in the learning process. As the great one, Wayne Gretzky, so eloquently put it: “You miss 100% of the shots you never take”.

“Its not the mistake that matters. It’s how you deal with it, what you learn from it, and how you apply that lesson to your life.”