My girlfriend and I brought our cats together about a month ago. It hasn’t been easy. Not at all. We have a one-bedroom apartment and four bodies. There is enough space for all of us if we can get along. There’s hardly enough room if we continue to maintain the distances between each other that we have been.
We haven’t started getting along nicely yet, but there are a few lessons that I can think I can take away from this process and apply to my life as a teacher.
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With that, let’s begin….
The Cats Will Come Together in Their Own Time
Like me, cats like to sleep and they like their space. Change is not their friend, whereas naps are. “Territorial” is a word that is often used to describe how cats approach their environment. Garfield is famous for being able to sleep on command.
For the ten years that Riel and I have been together, he has pretty much had free rein. I haven’t really set any rules for him or tried to modify his behaviour too much. I do put a harness and lead on him when I let him out into the backyard at my parents’ place or on the balcony at home. He can jump over objects that are three-feet high. Sometimes, I’ll find him hanging out in the highest cupboard in the kitchen, tucked in next to glass jars that I’ve saved because I’m hoping to find a purpose for them.
My guess is that Mikka’s story is a little bit different. My girlfriend is more caring and structured than I am. She does things more intentionally. She also loves Mikka more than me – fair enough. In the past, Mikka would go to his grandparents’ house when my girlfriend went away. He would hide in a corner in the basement for as long as he was there, keeping his distance from the grandparents’ cat. At home, he goes about quite leisurely. He’s never in a hurry. He doesn’t get himself into precarious positions.
Riel moved into Mikka’s home. A place where Mikka had established himself. Until now he didn’t have to share anything, including the affections of his mother. Things are different now.
The dream was this: Bring Riel over, keep them separated by the bedroom door for about a week, bring them together and feed them at the same time, then just sit back and enjoy life while the cats play.
Life is full of unrealized dreams. This is just one more.
We’ve been working on bringing the two together for about a month now. They will wait us out.
When we bring students together in September, we have to give them time to adjust. When they walk into the classroom for the first time they are bombarded with a lot of new things: teacher, classroom, colleagues, seating arrangement, rules. Even the routes they take through the building to get to class are different; before they’ve even stepped one foot in the classroom, things are different. Not to mention the growth physically and psychologically that they’ve experienced over the summer.
I’m guessing that all students walk in with some degree of anxiety. Some students will be more comfortable with the change than others. What each student brings into the classroom will be different, based on their own, unique narrative. Some students will want to explore and take an active approach to their discovery of the new environment. Some students will want to seek out the most comfortable spot from which to observe their new environment.
Balancing the various needs isn’t easy. As a teacher, I want to push my students out of their comfort zone. I want them to meet with interesting challenges that they are able to overcome after a productive struggle. The challenge is how to allow those who need to roam the freedom to do so while also allowing those who want to pull out a telescope the platform to stand on.
This takes time. This involves giving students differentiated tasks that they can work on from inside the edges of their comfort zone. This means bringing students closer together, like laying pentagon-shaped tiles next to each other in the right pattern.
This also includes failing. When students don’t get along, it’s important to try to understand why and then work together to reach a compromise. Not all students will be willing to concede to any agreement, for any number of reasons, placing you, the teacher, in a tricky position. Getting angry isn’t going to fix the problem.
Each student grows and develops at their own pace. Sometimes, we may be asking of them something that isn’t on their path. I have no idea why tree branches grow in the random patterns that they do. My assumption is that they are each trying to find a spot with enough sun to sustain them. Students, too, grow out in unpredictable paths, each driven by a different motivating force. The only constant is the trunk that supports them. We, as teachers, are one of the rings that marks a period of growth in this support structure.
Like the cats, we need to give students sufficient space to understand their position in their new environment. We can’t just put them in the same room and hope that they will all get along. We have to be patient while also providing the right opportunities for them to come together. Ultimately, the hope is that students will share their strengths to meet with shared success.