Reason #127 Why I Teach

Today we were eating a special lunch to celebrate my daughter’s kindergarten promotion and a young lady approached me.

Young lady: Hey! Aren’t you Mrs. F.?

Me: Yes, I am.

Young Lady: You are my sister’s favorite teacher. She talks about you all the time.

The catch? I taught her in 6th grade. She will be a senior next year.

Who says teachers don’t make an impact? Crazy people, that’s who.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year… Sort of

As summer approaches, there is a feeling of anticipation and frustration. Students and teachers are counting the days until the sweet, sweet release of the last day of school. We are occupying the same space, but there is a tenuous truce, an air of tolerance, safe in the knowledge that we only have a few days left until the end of school.

Everyone is sick of each other.

This sick is not a simple cold; it is a festering buboe of yuck that is about to pop. Kids are tired of the “blah, blah” they hear when we talk. We are tired of seeing their lovely faces. Even the good kids start to grind on the last nerve. It is nothing personal. The beginning of the next year will bring a return of the fond feelings that arrive with the hope that a new year brings. Right now, however, there is a gritting of teeth as we all keep up the facade that we are not tired of each other.

As we wrap up the year, there are some mannerisms of theirs that are making me nuts. The fact that they lose focus every three minutes (okay, that might be an exaggeration but some days it feels that way) makes me hang my head in frustration. When they start cleaning up five minutes before the bell rings –even when I am closing up the lesson and still talking — it screams disrespect. Unfortunately, at this time of year, it is something that increases in frequency. I know this but it still irritates me.

They are also tired of my mannerisms. Okay, maybe this is not true. I asked my kids what irritated them the most about me and they gave me nothing. Seriously! The only thing that they could give me was that sometimes I’m too nice and they are worried that I will be taken advantage of. Silly kids. I told them that I could try to be meaner, but they didn’t think that was a good idea.

I tried new things this year. Some were successful– integrating even more technology in my classroom. Other things bombed like the movie Battleship (my attempt to get a classroom blog going). The one thing that seemed to affect my students the most was when I  arranged my classroom to a completely non-teacher centered classroom.

How do you make kids squirm?
I’ve found the answer.

My kiddos got positively twitchy. I didn’t realize that switching it around like this would freak them out so much. I have to admit that I took twisted pleasure out of their discomfort. The amazing thing, though, is that most grew to like it. It gave them a feeling of freedom that they didn’t have when they were stuck facing the board. I also noticed something else. They stopped asking me questions and started working more on their own. My goal has always been to make myself unnecessary in my classroom. Achievement unlocked!

I am quite fond of my students. I will be even fonder of them when they are no longer with me every day.

Four days and counting…

My Last Weekend of Summer Vacation

This is the last weekend I have as a mom and a wife only. Come Tuesday, my classroom will be filled with the chatter of brand new freshmen and a few repeat students. It is a bittersweet weekend. I love spending time with my family, but I cannot wait to embrace this new group of kiddos and become a part of their support structure.

The great thing is that I have had quite a few of these students before as seventh graders. When I check my rosters, there are little pictures of them. There are so many of their little faces that I recognize and it fills my heart with happiness. I can’t wait to reacquaint myselves with them and to get to know the others whose faces are unfamiliar.

My summer has been filled with so much professional development. ISTE, Anita Archer, Teach like a Champion, posts from my PLN on Twitter and Google+. Honestly, I sometimes feel overwhelmed by all of the new ways that I have to reach my students. I decided that this is the perfect time to reflect on what I’ve learned and set goals for myself.

I am going to keep my goals SMART this year. If I do so, I will be able to develop a good plan to achieve them. So, here goes:

  1. I will keep my word wall up to date by posting my words in the morning on the day I teach them.
  2. I will give my students more choices about how to learn their objectives. There is more than one way to get to mastery.
  3. I will create authentic audiences for my students, even if it takes more time to find them.
  4. I will faithfully preassess before every unit. I do this for many of my big units, but I sometimes just wing it on others. 

These are my goals for this year.  I will revisit these and see how I’m doing.

What about you? Do you have any goals that you want to focus on for this upcoming school year?

Burdens and Blessings

Today I realized yet again how important my job as a teacher is. Three students showed their trust in me by sharing their precious secrets, fears, and interests. Each of these children came to me and shared in their own special ways that I treasure.

The First Student
One of my students opened up to me about a traumatic experience that she had. She and her mother were driving when a person on a small moped lost control of it and swerved in front of their car. She watched this person hit the windshield right in front of her and roll off the front of the car. Unfortunately, her mother was not able to stop in time. The person died.

This little girl was non-functioning. She was walking around, completely numb. When I asked her if she was okay, she burst into tears. She told me that she couldn’t stop thinking about it, that it kept replaying over and over in her head. Through her sobs, she kept on saying, “But Miss, he was wearing a helmet; he was wearing a helmet.” My heart is breaking for her right now. I can’t even imagine what she is going through. This is a child that I am sending my heart out to. I feel powerless, but I did every thing I knew to do in order to help her.

The Second Student
My second student is a stoic sophomore who has seen it all and is tougher than everything, just ask him. He is struggling in my class, as well as his others. It is not because he isn’t capable of doing the work– something he readily admits; he just doesn’t care (his words, not mine). He says to me that he heard that junior year is the hardest year of high school. As we talked about his future he revealed that he used to be on the honor roll, a straight A student.

I asked him if he knew why he changed. He said he knew exactly what the problem was. He got mixed with the wrong crowd and started doing things he should not do. Now he is stuck in the culture and is trying to get out of it. His parents know of this and are doing everything that they can to help him. His eyes welled with tears as he talked to me about how he knows he needs to get out of it and that it is so hard, but he is trying. He opened up to me about this, allowing his vulnerability to show. I know that it was so hard for him to share this with me. I was honored to know that he felt safe and secure enough to seek my encouragement/advice about it. I told him so.

The Third Student
This story is completely different from my other ones. I have a student who is on the spectrum and struggles sometimes in class. He is brilliant but socially awkward. Well, when I think of it, what freshman isn’t a little socially awkward? This young man has two things that he fixates on: reading (it soothes him when he needs it) and movies. You tie those two things together and he is in heaven.

Through the year, we have been working very hard to build a relationship. Today, I realize that we made it. He came up to me, out of breath, asking me if I’ve ever read The Great Gatsby. When I answered in the affirmative, he started gushing about the fact that they are making a movie of it, directed by Baz Luhrman (the same one who did Romeo and Juliet with Leo DiCaprio and Claire Danes). This was IMPORTANT to him. He shared it with me throughout the hour (even when he was supposed to be working on his assignments). I just let him, happy in the fact that he was sharing something with me that he valued. Plus, I can’t wait to see the movie. His enthusiasm has got me interested.

The Gift of a Teacher
The gift of touching so many young lives can be overwhelming. Knowing that I was a safe place for these young adults to come and share really means something to me. It also has left me emotionally drained and torn up inside. My heart aches for the first two. Actually, aches is not even a strong enough word. I am heartsick. When I think of the trauma and struggles that they have gone through already at such a young age… I don’t even have words. However, I know that this will help them to become even stronger adults. Knowing that I had a part in comforting them makes me feel like I am answering a higher calling, that my purpose in life is beyond my comprehension. It is both a burden and a blessing. I wouldn’t have it any other way.