Saturday, June 2, 2012
End of the Year Thoughts
In no particular order, here are the things that were different or that I did differently this year:
1. I bonded with the kids. Even the difficult ones. Last year, I realized that one obnoxious kid could ruin my whole class. This year I learned to make that obnoxious kid my best friend. It didn't work with every kid, but most of the time it did. At first, I faked it. Now, I love those obnoxious kids and they are devoted to me. They aren't all passing, but they are never disrespectful nor do they cause problems in my room. In fact, often they fuss at other kids who are misbehaving. I have a student who was labeled "the worst kid in his class" by the principal. Never once has he said a disrespectful word to me. The first week of school, I let him know that while I was aware of his reputation, I was giving him a clean slate and I believed in him. I actually went to bat for him to keep him from being permanently suspended and was successful.
2. I got better at dealing with parents. It is so easy to lose it with parents and become defensive. I became much better at discussing challenges with parents and convincing them that we were a team to help their child. Not all parents are willing to play along and that is the reason their children are the way they are. However, I developed some amazing relationships with parents who have up until this point, felt like the school had given up on their children.
3. I ignore most of it, laugh at some of it and then deal with what really is important. The bottom line is, I need these kids to learn. I need them to trust me and respect me. I have learned to pick my battles. This year I didn't even react to comments like, "This is stupid!" or (my personal favorite) "Miz Nilknarf, you makin' us do too much!" Whatever. They can do it or not do it, their choice and then their grade will reflect that. When they are trying to get my attention by being obnoxious and I can't ignore it, I often smile or laugh and then we move on. In really severe cases, I pull them outside and have a quick chat. I have done that probably less than two dozen times this entire year. In rare cases, I have them removed from the room (basically, when all of the above hasn't worked or when their actions are dangerous or intolerably disrespectful).
4. I use the loving guilt trip instead of yelling. These kids are used to yelling and anger. They see it all the time. They are immune to both. What takes them off guard is when I act like I am truly saddened and hurt by their behavior because I care so much. I had a student who was skipping constantly and finally I pulled him aside and said, "When you skip, it really makes me sad because I really want you to pass my class and I just don't understand why you wouldn't want to come!" He never skipped again. I also often preface any kind of redirection with "I love you" and make it super polite. I know this seems completely ridiculous but these kids need to hear it and believe it. So, "Jasmine? You know I love you, but your behavior right now is really disruptive. Can you please stop talking and get back to work?" Inevitably, I get a "Oh, my bad, Miz Nilknarf," and that is the end of that.
5. I gave more thought to what I wanted them to actually know. Five years from now, will they need to know the intricacies of the plot of A Raisin in the Sun? No, but I would like them to be able to make connections between literature and their world, be able to identify certain elements of stories and be able to write and speak eloquently about what they have read. I want them to be able to formulate opinions and be able to support them. Most of all, I want them to get that reading is important and should be a part of their lives way beyond school. It has made a huge difference in how I grade and how successful they are in my class.
6. I do most classwork collaboratively. In the real world, my students will need to know how to work with other people, throw ideas off of each other to find answers and solutions, and use resources to get there. One person may not know all the answers, but an entire group of people should. This offers a great opportunity to use student-led remediation and to create an investment by the class as they work together.
7. I have credibility with Administration. After a pretty traumatic bump first semester where I had to stand up to the principal (with the full backing of the NEA, God bless them!) I have gotten the confidence of Administration. I rarely say no to anything, have a great relationship with my peers and have demonstrated that I have a commitment to these kids and the success of this school. It is sad that I have to earn it rather than just be given it, but it is what it is.
8. I give them the grade that they deserve. Failing someone can sometimes be a good thing. It is important to learn that you don't just get a free ride and endless chances to pull it together. A teacher friend told me she failed a student in 9th grade. This week, that student is going to graduate and has signed on with a college to play football. He invited her to the signing because he said her failing him had been the wake up call he needed. Conversely, a student who works hard and makes progress, even if it is not on the level with the rest of the class, should be rewarded. I have a student in my collaborative class (half special ed/half mainstream students) who could barely put a sentence together at the start of the year. He did not pass the state mandated test, but he is passing my class because he worked so hard and has come so far. So, I am going to say out loud what I think most teachers do, but never speak of--I differentiate grades. If you are brilliant and put in minimum effort, it shows in your ultimate grade. If you struggle but work hard, I give you credit for that.
9. I go to after school events. I had a student who never said a word or did anything in class until I started showing up at his basketball games. He made a total turn around and works hard and would do anything for me. I found out that this student is in a group home. He doesn't have parents sitting in the bleachers, but he has me there.
10. I give them an opportunity to say thank you. During Teacher Appreciation Week, I asked each student to write a letter to a teacher who has made a difference to them. I specifically said, "Don't write one to me because I don't want anyone to feel like they have to suck up." Guess what? Some still wrote to me anyway! I was shocked in some cases by who chose to write to me and why my class had been important to them and they made me cry I was so moved. Beyond that, other teachers so appreciated those letters and it gave me the opportunity to see which teachers are really valued by students. Those are the ones I will go to when I need advice.
My daughter has decided to be a teacher, God bless her. I am proud to have her step up to be a part of a profession that is the basis for everything that is important in society. Yes, we are underpaid but what we get in return is so much more valuable. Few people get the privilege in their jobs of impacting lives and potentially changing the world. That is an incredible responsibility, but an overwhelming honor.