One of the things I appreciate most about teaching in my local homeschool co-op, is it gives me everything I loved most about teaching (reading and discussing great literature) — and none of what I hated (tests, grading papers, and arguing about grades on those papers).
Each year — fall and spring — for the past several years, it’s been my good fortune to dive into literature with a bunch of homeschooled high school kids. And, because it’s not my first time at this rodeo, I’ve got a fairly good eye for picking out the kids who are in class because they want to be there (God bless their little cotton socks) and the ones who don’t.
The ones who don’t tend to look at me on the first day of class with eyes that say, “I’m only here because my mother signed up for this stupid class.”
Because there are usually some of each sort of student in the class, I’ve learned to keep my goals modest. Can they leave class at the end of 10 weeks thinking, “Wow, I didn’t expect to like this, but it was okay.” If we can reach that threshold as a class…it’s a success.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I give it my best shot to keep everyone engaged, interested, and having fun, but there’s no way 12-15 kids ranging from grades 9-12 are all going to think Polonius is as big a hoot as I do.
When I begin a semester expecting everyone to go all misty-eyed over the Odyssey or thrill to the placement of sinners in Dante’s Inferno, it’s a recipe for disappointment. Keep those expectations firmly in check and everyone is happier at the end of the semester.
Some of the kids will stay after class to continue talking about the day’s assigned reading and things we didn’t have time to discuss in class. Others will race for the door.
That’s why I remember so clearly one of the best compliments I ever received. I was teaching at a small liberal arts college at the time, and as a student walked out of class after turning in his final exam, he said:
“I really thought this class was going to suck, but it didn’t. It didn’t suck nearly as much as as I thought it would.”
My friends, that goes down as a W.
When I think about life outside the classroom, I follow the same policy. Oh, I’m not a pessimist by any stretch of the imagination, but when I allow myself to fall into the trap of great expectations, then I’m apt to fall short — and feel like a failure.
When I keep my expectations firmly tied to reality and the realm of possibility, there’s a good chance that I’ll meet those goals and feel terrific about the situation and my part in it.
This essay was previously published at GinaProsch.com.