Thursday, August 06, 2009

Someone on my Facebook friend list said they were having a bumpy day and hoped it would get better. Jokingly, I responded, keep running over bumps in the road, they get smoother eventually. Another friend turned and posted this message as their status. I just laughed and went on with my day.

Later, the message started resonating in my mind, and as often happens, I started thinking how this might apply to teaching, my students, and how I can work to become a more effective teacher.

It seemed obvious: the bumps in the road of teaching are those difficult students, the ones who I struggle to meet the needs of, both academically and emotionally. Would the same strategy work with those students? If I just keep running over them, over and over again, would eventually they get "smoother"?

Perhaps.... therefore, what I need are strategies for running over them, over and over, smoothing those students rough edges. Realistically, though, these students are not the rolling hills, easily smoothed surfaces. They are rough terrain, left too long, neglected at home and even more, by a system they have come to mistrust.

My incoming group of 7th graders is one of "those" groups of students the teachers of previous years take great pleasure in warning the new teachers about. "Just wait until you get THESE kids!" they laugh. I have seen them in the hall, these bumps in the road headed my way, put there by teachers unsure how else to deal with their disruptive behaviors. I have seen them in the office, professing their innocence, as yet again, they are waiting to be suspended. I have spoken with them, warning them, "7th graders don't sit in the hall during class" I admonish them. I have already set them up to be a problem with me, a bump in my road. I need to change that the first day of school, I know.

Working with these "bumps" in the road, requires a different skill set, a different mind set, than working with the average student.

That skill set first off, must have a large bucket of patience on my part, for me as well as for them. I must go into the experience treating them as I always treat my new classes, with excitement over all the things we will learn together and a wonder about what kinds of experiences we will together explore. I must give them space to be themselves, but set strict parameters for their actions, and use logical, patient, predictable consequences when they do not meet my expectations. But I must always assume good intentions on their parts, planning for them to behave appropriately, instead of assuming they will not be able to handle certain activities. I need to go into this treating them as I would any other group of students, with high expectation, academically and socially.

I think maybe I need to develop a clearer view of the road without bumps or roadblocks, but just winding curves and surprises around the bend. I need to view the upcoming year not in terms of potential obstacles, but with excitement and anticipation of what can be accomplished with this group!