You Can Steer Yourself Any Direction You Choose
She stood in the classroom, alone, and took in its details as light from the setting sun filtered in through half-open window blinds. For a moment she considered turning on the overhead lights, but her eyes adjusted quickly and she decided to stick with the light as it was. There was a smell, although like the light it was slight and not unpleasant. She wondered at its source, something singular or was it a composite of multiple remainders from the school year recently concluded? The room was quiet, although she could hear voices, muffled, far away, probably from the interview that was supposed to follow hers.
She wasn’t sure what to think or feel yet about her interview. How long had it lasted – 45 minutes, give or take? How had she come across she wondered? Would she like to see the classroom, just in case she was the one invited to take the position, she had been asked? The principal was friendly enough, the whole personnel committee was friendly enough, she thought as she accepted the offer. Friendly enough, but she still wasn’t sure if she was ready for a move. At the moment she was just concerned about whether or not she had come across as competent as she responded to their questions.
Her eyes fell on the poster on the wall not far from her and for some reason her mind locked onto it. The light was on the less-than-adequate side, the dimness pronounced, yet the poster erupted from the wall anyways. The colors appeared bold, the message of the poster even more so.
There was more classroom to see, more posters on the walls, more writing on the dry erase boards, more books on shelves, and more windows through which to explore, yet none of them seemed to matter for the moment. She remained locked on the poster.
She had never been provided books by Dr. Seuss when she was a child, in fact, she had not been allowed to read those kind of books, and even now so many years later, so long after she had recognized the wisdom of Seuss, she felt a tiny pang of guilt. Her mother was in the room now, too, even though she had passed five years earlier, God rest her soul, and was wondering aloud to her what she found so valuable in Seuss’s craziness. We wanted to keep you from such things as a child, she reminded her recently-interviewed daughter, so why would you start paying attention to them now? She thanked her mother, her own lips pursed in frustration, and escorted her from the dimming classroom. Her concentration returned in full focus to the poster.
Its message struck her, jostled her enough that insights were knocked about like a metal ball in a pinball machine. Thoughts came into focus.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
She’d seen this poster before, agreed with its message totally, loved the creativity of Dr. Seuss, in spite of her upbringing and her mother. But seeing it those other times was before the in-service a couple of months earlier, before the stuff she had learned about choice theory. The thought occurred to her that she should really be thinking about the interview she had just completed and about her life in general, not about a poster on a dimly lit classroom wall, but the thought left as quickly as it had come. The poster mattered for some reason, and like a surfer she would ride this thought wave until it arrived gently on a shore.
We agree so readily with Seuss and the idea that children can steer themselves wherever they choose, she thought, using the ‘we’ pronoun as she spoke on behalf of every other teacher in the world, yet we don’t really agree with it, not really. We want kids to steer where we choose, since we know better, right? We’ll go with any direction they choose, as long as it’s the same direction we would have chosen. Choosing, making a decision, is a skill. Like writing a five-paragraph essay, being able to choose well comes more quickly to some than to others, but with good feedback and coaching everyone can do it.
How can I not only give my students choices, but teach them to make choices, she asked on behalf of teachers everywhere. Real choices, she added, not the fake ones we toss to them daily. Little scenarios flashed across the movie screen in her head –
+ project rubrics from which students could choose their level of performance;
+ flexible scheduling that allows students to give input as to how much time is needed for certain assignments;
+ planning for special events like open house, class parties, and even field trips that include student input;
+ solving classroom problems that come up, maybe even solving a problem between two students, by addressing the problem as a class;
+ curriculum planning that takes into consideration what students are interested in;
+ asking a student what needs to happen for him to be better able to cooperate with a classroom procedure.
She caught herself, a little amazed at the detail of the scenarios in her head, a little amazed, too, that these scenarios were inspired by this children’s poster and the silly author that came up with these silly sayings. Please, mother, will you ever quit?
The classroom had grown dimmer still, dark enough that she turned to the light switches and toggled one up, instantly illuminating the space in artificial light. Other things caught her attention now, other posters on walls, items hanging from the ceiling, student artwork posted, a schedule on the board, a portion of it slightly erased. It struck her how similar classrooms can look, yet even in their similarities a specialness lurks. How can a space that looks so much like other classroom spaces be so special and even unique? The space is sacred! This revelation hit her, not because of the look of the decorations, but because of what the decorations represented. The space is sacred, she replayed it again. What could be more special and important, for instance, than students learning to make choices and learning to grapple with the common problems of life?
She glanced around the room once more, tipping her mind’s hat to the Seuss poster as she quickly took it in again, and then switched the light off as she moved back into the well-lit hallway. The voices, somewhat stronger, but still muffled, reminded her of her own reason for being in this place. For a moment she sent up a little prayer for the person being interviewed at that moment, hoping he or she was doing well, putting their best foot forward. Some, she thought, would see the person being interviewed as her competitor, but she didn’t see him or her that way at all. She wasn’t sure who best would thrive at this school, in that classroom. Did she want to beat another teacher out of a job that really wasn’t for her? No, she thought, and instead embraced the idea that she wanted the right person to “win” this job, which may or may not be her.
She began to walk toward the school offices and the lobby that would lead to the parking lot where her car awaited. What if she was asked to fill this vacancy and teach at this school she wondered? How to choose? She smiled as she thought about this common life situation and the way in which she might struggle to decide. She smiled as she admitted that learning to make choices had not really been a part of her life until after she was done with school. More than a pity, she thought. That would be changing, though, whether she stayed in her present school or accepted a call to this new one, that would be changing. I wonder where I can buy that poster, she thought, as she walked across the parking lot, the cool evening air feeling just right.
Looking forward to heading to Dakota Adventist Academy next week and sharing choice theory concepts with Dakota Conference educators. I’m anticipating a great time together!
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
Theodor Seuss Geisel wrote books for children, several of them being the most popular of all time, which sold more than 600 million copies and were translated into 20 different languages.
Dick Pulk used to affirm classroom meetings as a way for students to offer choices to peers and then for collaborative choice making to take place. He demonstrated these during intensive weeks in Ireland over 20 years ago and I still remember their effectiveness!
Thanks for this piece, Jim; it reminds me of the early years of my career when I was interviewed and taught second grade—-in North Carolina and then in Vermont! So often interview questions are posed in stimulus-response language and a choice theorist can be masterful at reframing the information!