I haven’t figured teaching out yet. I’m most certainly still a learner. Even so, this week brought a LOT of growth in the classroom, both for my students and me.
It’s important to be honest about the truly aggravating, stressful, heartbreaking aspects of this work because you have a lot of them before the first triumph. So I’ll start with those:
- Last weekend I spent nearly 12 hours each day writing lesson plans. I finished four of them in 24 hours– about twice as fast as when I began. But on Monday I realized that the way I had written my plans and the structure of the handouts wasn’t conducive to my students’ learning styles. Even after editing everything and trying new engagement strategies, they still only mastered the daily standard on one of the five days.
- I have one child who works so, so, SO incredibly hard despite a learning disability. He spends HOURS on the daily homework assignments and writes me long notes about where he got stuck and/or the topics with which he still needs help. He can usually remember the first step, but all of his arithmetic is incorrect. Thus despite his effort, perseverance, participation in class, and willingness to help others in the class, he is still technically “failing” math.
- Another student rarely speaks and NEVER writes anything on his paper. I suspect he has difficulty processing, because it takes him a long time to answer any question– even yes or no ones. During the year he has an aid, but summer school sites don’t provide these kinds of resources.
- I also have a child who is off-the-charts intelligent but SO hyper (he runs and runs and runs around the classroom unless you explicitly tell him to slow down, take a seat, and breathe), two students who consistently score 100% on their exit tickets even when everyone else needs more review, a student who speaks no English, and several students who still haven’t learned how to multiply.
But my classroom is not an anomaly– it’s a typical public school class in any high-poverty area of the United States. Student differences are what make teaching stressful, challenging, and heartbreaking, but also extremely fun, engaging, and important. These are children who may not have had a teacher say, “I believe in you” every time they give an assignment. These are children who haven’t been told WHY it’s important to practice, WHY mistakes are critical for success, WHY effort is more important than correct answers, and WHY it’s important to learn about and value each other. With every consequence I give for behavior, I say, “This is because I’ve seen your potential and I’ve seen your best work. You need to think about how (running/refusing to do work/talking while I’m talking) prevents you from being your best self.” And every class begins with the words, “We are on an urgent mission to learn: we need to make as much growth as possible for you to be successful in sixth grade and beyond.” I say this over and over and over again.
But amidst the long, long hours, exhaustion, sleeplessness, and stress there are the beautiful triumphs– the reasons that I LOVE what I do even after a mere two weeks.
- The Compliment Wall: for three days, Mr. Joe and I had the kids play “Compliment Ball” as a way to greet each other in the morning– one person would start with a compliment for another person and toss the ball to them. That person would compliment someone else in the class, and so on. The problem was that no matter how many times we said, “Think about something to say about someone else’s PERSONALITY,” 20 out of the 25 kids would defer to, “I like your shirt.” Kind, but not about to make the world a better place. On Thursday, we gave each table a stack of sticky notes. Each person had to write one compliment per person at their team table. It had to be about their personality or something awesome they had done, but the note itself was anonymous. Our kids wrote some beautiful things to one another, and they keep checking the wall to see what people wrote about their classmates and if new ones have been added since they last checked. Joe and I even got some compliments!
- Fraction Frenzy, the Game Show: also on Thursday, the kids entered the room as contestants on Fraction Frenzy: the Game Show. I split them into 6 teams (with evenly distributed Exit Ticket success rates), and each team had a designated spot on the whiteboard. When I flipped to the next slide, they had to run up to the board and write down as many equivalent fractions as possible for the target fraction in 2 minutes. The problems got slightly harder and harder, and the group work transitioned into partner work. They LOVED it and begged to play again on Friday. I promised we will on Monday for a different topic 🙂
- One of the girls who always writes, “I hate school, math, reading, and writing” on every survey we give told me yesterday, “Ms. Y, I like math now. I just wanted to tell you that.”
- The student who has trouble processing worked ALL through class yesterday on a personal whiteboard. He was also invested in his partner work task, and I caught him smiling. He also answered a question in front of the whole class, which I know gives him a lot of anxiety.
- I’ve been asking the kids who score less than 75% on their Exit Tickets to do a quick review of yesterday’s material while they eat breakfast. Then I give back their Exit Tickets and tell them that if they can find and correct ALL of mistakes, they’ll get 100%. That brought our class average for “Finding Equivalent Fractions” up from 74% to 88%! (The goal is AT LEAST 85%).
- I get the kids to practice these crazy hand motions I made up to go with all of our vocabulary words. They have a hard time expressing in words HOW they find solutions, so we run through examples using the motions. I asked for two volunteers to perform one of the explanations in front of the whole class. If they did it alone, they’d get a Personal Point (long story). The two students who are LEAST likely to focus on doing their work in class got up and performed! (Note: I’m really, really, really hyper when I teach. This is just one of the techniques I use to prevent sleepers. I’ve also thought about tap dancing, confetti, and backup singers. Just kidding).
- The people I work with are SO awesome. I love riding the bus in the morning because everyone will talk about how they plan to execute their lessons– and then we all take snippets of each others’ ideas and adapt them for our own classes that same day. Also, Mr. Joe is pretty much the greatest and works tirelessly for the sake of our students. This is how he operates in a nutshell:
- Finally, there are the laughs I get when I sit down to grade.