I find September is always a challenging month to teach my pre-college students. After-school activities and sports ramp up, families are often gone on the weekends drinking up every last bit of the warm weather, and the first round of exams begins.
Sometimes the temptation to allow students to feel the weight of the consequences of not practicing in their lessons is strong, but over the years I’ve learned a little grace and patience as they navigate this busy season is almost always the better choice.
Today, after teaching 2 classes and giving 2 exams of my own, I ran home to teach (after getting stuck on the highway due to a stalled vehicle) and got in just in time to welcome my first student of the afternoon. I was rushed. She was under-prepared. We decided to chalk last week up to the crazy time of year and embrace today’s lesson as a chance to practice together. As she left, she promised to practice more this week. The next student came in, head down. I could tell she also didn’t have a good practice week. I asked her how it went and she launched into the familiar list of meets, weekend travel, after-school practices, etc. She’s always a very responsible student, so I reminded her that a bad practice week doesn’t have to mean a bad lesson—we’d practice together. So, we worked through spots she was struggling with for the rest of the lesson. This trend continued throughout the evening.
Like I said, sometimes I was tempted to remind them of the thing they already knew: if they had practiced more, they’d feel more prepared, but that was unnecessary. They knew that. Life had gotten in the way this week and perhaps their lack of preparation was a combination of that, exhaustion, and yes, perhaps some days, not the best uses of time, but we all have those days/weeks, even as adults, don’t we?
So, hard as it is sometimes, I try to remind myself to treat my students as I would want to be treated: sometimes with tough love (but rarely), but mostly with grace and joy.