Tomorrow starts the beginning of a new phase of the school year. Tomorrow is the day when I begin to teach kids online and in person simultaneously. For many teachers this has been their reality all year, but for me, it’s brand new. As more kids are returning to school, the in-person classes were getting too big, and the online only classes were shrinking. Most grade levels didn’t really have an issue with this, but our grade level was set up a little differently, so we had to make some adjustments.
Rereading my previous blog post at this time was a good reminder of why we do the things we do. Am I stressed out about this new way of teaching? You bet. But do I think it will be in the best interest of the most kids? Yes, I do. I’m sure I’m going to fumble around a little at first. I’m sure I’ll make some mistakes. I’m sure there will be times when things don’t go according to plan. But I’m also sure that I can figure it out, with the help of my students, teammates, and colleagues. If a teacher can’t embrace learning something new, it would be hypocritical of them to expect their students to rise to new challenges.
I will rise. I will do my best. I will model how to handle coping with things that may be confusing or frustrating. I will muddle through. And through it all, I will be delighted to have actual human children right there in the room with me, as well as those tiny digital people online cheering me on. Here’s to a new challenge for this old teacher. It’s going to be great.
Yesterday I was fortunate enough to participate in a virtual staff training. Here we were, a staff of mostly white, mostly female educators trying to improve our practice. We worked with a trainer who has spent her career researching and applying methods to bring EVERYONE to the table in terms of education. From early childhood to graduate studies there are obstacles that many of our learners and their families face that take them further and further away from receiving the quality education they deserve.
There was a lot to learn, think about, and digest, but for me there was one nugget that stood out. Here it is: Every Decision Made Must Be For The Benefit Of The Students. It seems both obvious and simple, but when I think about day to day practice in schools (not just my own), there’s plenty of work to be done. Think about it. Every decision. Wow. Let me just throw out a few, some from the workshop, and some from my reflection.
curriculum (yes, that’s HUGE)
teacher evaluation process
cafeteria set up
instructional team decisions
family communication plans
rewards and incentives
supervision of unstructured times
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Within each of those individual bullet points there are dozens of factors to take into consideration, but the most important one must always be the best outcome for the student.
The reality is that we know there are things that could and should be better if only we had bigger budgets. Smaller class sizes, more access to high quality instructional materials and equipment, the ability to bring in experts to share their knowledge and love of their field to spark kids’ interests; all of these would be wonderful. However, we must work with what we have and find ways to make it better.
There are dozens of times a day during teaching when I make decisions on the fly. If the class seems to be drifting off, we switch gears or take a break. If the work turned in is poor, I analyze the weakness in my instruction, and have another go at it taking a different approach. If part of a lesson has taken longer than expected, I modify the assignment to reflect the shorter amount of time for students to work on it. These are things that teachers do all the time, and the more experienced they are the better they get at it. But experience can also bring an attitude of “this way works for me, so I’m going with it.” This is where the Benefit Of The Students can come crashing down.
Here’s what I mean. In my teaching I have always read aloud to my students. I have taught kids from preschool to grade six, and I have read to them all. Over time I’ve found many books that I love, and in my heart I would like everyone else to love them as well, but I know better. My reality as a white woman born in the suburbs more than 50 years ago is quite different from that of ANY child born in the last ten years. Now add in family structure, race, gender identity, home language, disability, living conditions, access to adequate food, housing, and healthcare, economic situation, issues of safety in the home, and more, and you see that my reality and my students’ realities may be worlds apart.
While I’m feeling pretty good about the literature I share with me students, I do sometimes make decisions that I know aren’t necessarily in the best interests of the students. Is every lesson as engaging as it could be? No. Time constraints are a big factor on this one. Planning, executing, and assessing these top tier learning opportunities take a good deal of time and effort. Every teacher I know has limited time, and most of us are knocking ourselves out in the effort department, just trying to keep our heads above water.
Here’s the thing: when you know better you can do better. Can I completely reinvent what I teach and the way I teach it? Not completely, no. But can I make adjustments that benefit kids? Absolutely. After all, doing what’s best for kids is why I became a teacher in the first place.
It seems like I’m always writing about state testing. Maybe that’s because it always feels like state testing time.
Today the little munchkins are taking a writing test. They will read articles at, or above, their reading ability, then write some type of adult inspired essay on whatever topic they’re given. I feel for them.
This task is hard. Sitting in one place is hard. Being quiet is hard. Doing one activity for an extended period of time is hard, especially if it isn’t an activity you’ve chosen. And if it’s one where you don’t feel confident? Well, that’s just torture.
I’ve tried to prepare them for what they’re about to encounter. I’ve tried to give them lots of opportunities to write and learn various strategies and techniques. I’ve tried to build their capacity and confidence as writers. I’ve tried. But the thing you have to remember is this: they’re little kids. Give them a break. Give me a break.
If you really want to see kids write, let them write about worms and aliens and Pokemon and colonies of warrior hamsters. Let them write about the time they went to the beach or the way their aunt does their hair or their favorite video game. Let them describe their dream birthday party or bedroom. Let them examine an ordinary object up close and write about what they notice. Let them be playful and imaginative in their writing. Don’t make them write about the benefits of recycling or the contributions bees make.
Let them tell you about the time the power went off during a summer storm, or the time they went camping and forgot the bug spray. Let them write about their favorite stuffed animal or their favorite dessert. Or how about this? Let them write about the time they had to live in their car for a while or about how their uncle shot himself or how they found their mother dead in bed. Yes, all those things have happened to students in my care. You want to give them another state test? Fine. But let them be kids, please. They’ll grow up soon enough.