Friday, March 25, 2011

Today, the day before spring break, the last day of the third marking period, I'd like to offer you a little magic dust.

The school year feels as if we've finally hit our groove. The kids and I understand each other. We've found our ways to get along and git 'r done, so to speak.

Some of that is attributable to them, and their determination and perserverance. I am constantly 'magic-ed' by the tenacity of some of my students and their unwillingness to let their limitations limit them. I love the excitement in their faces when they GET IT, especially when they thought they couldn't. I love the pride that shines when they earn that hard-sought, definitely earned A on an assignment, particularly a difficult one, a chapter test, or something other huge obstacle.

Some of the groove is me, finally finding my pace with them, this hodgepodge of differentness compared to years gone by. Learning to accept, but challenge, encourage but not overwhelm, be patient but relentless.... it is always a balancing act with any group of students, without a doubt, but in special ed, it seems that balance is even more tenuous than in the regular classroom.

It's been a winding road this year, with obstacles I thought I'd never climb through without dynamite.

But here we are... in the home stretch. And... we're going to make it. :)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Teaching often becomes a power struggle with the teacher trying to overcome the reticence of students to accomplish the tasks in front of them. Unfortunately, it is a battle seldom won by the teacher. We can threaten, cajole, beg, bribe.... but we can't make those horses drink from our troughs.

Sometimes, a little extra one on one attention can change the reluctance to willingness, with some students. For other students, it is almost a contest to see who can hold out the longest in the head to head competition.

There are those who think it is simple... sit next to the student and make them do the work. Sure, that might work, but what about the students who also need, but want the help as well? What about the increasing number of reluctant learners/workers in the typical classroom? Is it possible to solve all those problems all the time just by sitting one on one? In my experience, not always. While I as a teacher may be able to encourage and get a student started on an assignment, I cannot always get them to the independent working stage.

Others swear if we give students choices and options in their learning, we can engage them more readily. Sure, I agree! But reality says, I am told what I must teach by the state, and those topics are not always easily attached to some topic that interests each and every student. Sometimes, they truly must learn it because they have to. I can work to make topics relevant, real life and meaningful, as much as possible, but again, some topics lend themselves more readily to this approach. Realistically, we just don't have to explore how peripherally topics may relate to each child's individual interests.

School should be engaging. Learning should be fun. But sometimes, students just have to learn because we, their teachers, tell them to. They have to do the work because we are told we must teach it to them, because THE TEST will test them on it.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Teachers sometimes forget the most important part of teaching is not delivering the content but their relationship with their students. If you spend time developing that relationship, the content will come naturally. After all, you are an expert in your field, trained to teach that subject matter. But if you don't first develop, and constantly strive to maintain a relationship with your students, all that knowledge is wasted.

Developing those relationships successfully depending on the grade level you teach. With middle schoolers, it is all about knowing them as an individual and acknowledging their uniqueness. They want you to ask about their life outside of school; they want you to comment on their new hair cut or sneakers; they want you to laugh at their jokes.Middle schoolers want to know about your life outside of school; they want you to share bits of yourself with them; they want to laugh at your jokes.

Yelling, demeaning, threatening, intimidation.... have no place in a classroom. Humor, reasoning, logical consequences go much farther in establishing order. Choices, conversations and praise work in almost every situation.

Some teachers think by ignoring students, they can eliminate problems. In certain circumstances, sure, picking your battles, letting the little stuff go, is definitely the right option. But allowing students to rule the roost, do whatever they want, with little or no regard for the good of the all, will set up a pattern of behavior that will soon snowball out of control. Nip insubordination in the bud early, before it is out of control by establishing your role as the classroom leader, not allowing an unruly student to run the show.

If you establish your classroom as a safe zone, a place where all are accepted, all are valued, and all are treated fairly, classroom rules become irrelevant as the class itself determines the norms. The daily routine ebbs and flows with little interruption or disruption. Relationships flourish and academic achievement clippity clops along.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

When you change teaching positions, often you also change classrooms. Such was the case with me this year. I moved from THE perfect room, the classroom I always wanted, ironically, back to the classroom I was in many years ago. While the 2 rooms are identical in size, the new one doesn't have a window or a sink. It also doesn't have the premier location of being in the middle of the middle school. But all that proved minor in the move. The only bad part - I inherited individual student desks instead of the 2 person tables I had before and loved.
As the year has gone by, I've gotten used to the desks... until when 3 tables were abandoned in the classroom adjoining mine! The sight of those tables there, lonely, no home, no students, no books.... I HAD to rescue them. RIGHT?
I talked to my kids in Guided Study and asked how they felt about switching. They LOVED the idea and we were off, hauling, rearranging, shoving tables this way and that, until they got everything just how they wanted it. The girls all chose to sit around the square tables in the back, while my boys lined across the front set of tables. They chose who to sit next to, and argued over which of the mismatched chairs they would claim as their own.
For the first time all year, it feels like home :) The kids love the change, and for me, it's like a step back in time. Funny how a few mismatched pieces of furniture can change a room from a classroom to a home!

Friday, March 04, 2011

I spent the first part of this week giving the ACT/MME to some of our juniors. The group I was with were 4 students who were allowed time and half as an accomodation for the tests. As the room supervisor for these tests, I had to monitor to make sure students were on the correct test, record the actual times each student took and each particular part of the test, and make sure nothing disrupted their testing environment.
Sounds like a pretty sweet gig, doesn't it? Sit back, relax... 3 days of pretty much nothing to do in the morning except watch the clock.
Let me tell you this! That clock ticked slower and slower and slower, with every passing second. Not allowed to read, use a computer, or do anything other than sit and watch those kids was about as boring as it can get. But it did give me time to think an awful lot about those tests, their implications for students and teachers, their cost, and their actual worth.
My 4 students were all great kids, kids I remember from middle school fondly. Maybe 1 of the 4 will go to college. For the others, for a variety of reasons, college is not a realistic goal. Would I give any of them a letter of recommendation to an employer? Hands down, a resounding YES. Any of them would make a terrific employee, dedicated, responsible, and model of what an employee should be.
So we spent 3 days testing these kids, using a test that is supposed to indicate whether or not their teachers have taught them the Michigan Merit Curriculum ( a 4 year plan, of which they've had 2 1/2 years worth so far) and give colleges a predictor of their potential success at their institute.
Day one, most of them gave their tests an honest effort. They read the questions, pondered their responses, and did their best. Day two, I could see their interest waning. They said the tests were more difficult, but I don't know. By Day three, they were just filling in bubbles. They were tired of sitting in those same hard, uncomfortable chairs for hours on end. They were tired of trying to read and understand question after question. They were tired, mentally and physically. Any initial motivation they had was gone, and they were simply going through the motions.
I don't blame the kids. I don't blame their parents. I blame Mr. Congressman and Mrs. Researcher. I challenge ANY elected official, any person who thinks these high stakes tests are accurate, reliable, an efficient use of time and money... to come take the tests. YOU, yes YOU, come sit in those miserable desks for 3 mornings in a row. You bubble in those little ovals. You sit there, waiting for the last person to be done, another hour after you've finished YOUR test. You sit there, take that test, all those different 10 tests that make up this particular battery, and let's see how much honest effort YOU want to put in. Then, try and think back to when you were 16, 17 years old... and reflect on how you might have done on those tests if you were one of these kids, not college bound, not one of the top, brightest students in the class, one of those who works hard, tries to be successful, but all that hard works garners you a C at best. And think..... how would you feel about that test?