Some people start blogs to share what they do in their classroom, some to reflect on their teaching, some start them to give insight into how kids think, some to talk about their strengths…and fears, and some to confess their teacher sins. This post might be a combination of all of those…here are my rambling thoughts on last year.
This year I did something I never have done before…I did not give my kids an end of the year evaluation. I planned to, but I purposely planned to do it on the last day of school during shortened periods and that time ended up getting wiped out. The end-of-the-year evaluations I give the kids have altered my teaching more than possibly anything else I do. You can read more about them here.
I finked out because this was one of the more challenging years I have had. Folks who have been around my school for a long, long time, called the past team the most difficult to go through our school…ever. But that wasn’t really the reason why I didn’t give it. Yep, they were a challenge, but full of a spirit which we need more of in this world. I didn’t give it because this year I felt as though I was not able to do my best and did not want to read evaluations that reflected something less than my best. Pretty lame excuse…
It wasn’t about the content or skills…actually this might have been my best year for those. It was about the culture, the spirit, that invisible web of spunk, creativity, and collaboration that I can usually create that allows individuals to walk out of my class in June with their Chin-up and feeling Fierce. I can identify three reasons that contributed to that. First, the school systems move to data, homogeneity, consistency, and the subliminal feeling that being different will not be tolerated. How much of that is in my head I do not know. Second, I had two new administrators. I wasn’t sure what they would see as acceptable and so shied away from anything that really pushed the limits. I also did not want to place them in a situation where they would have to feel pressure from the system. They are awesome, but did not think it was fair for me to place them in a tough situation the first year. Parents here skip right over teachers and admin and go to the system admin, so politics are a bit difficult. The third and biggest reason was parents. I have increasingly found that parents want what they got in school and believe that any deviation from content and skills would set their kid back years from now. I did not cover any current events this year…was not officially in the curriculum. When the kids would come back from a Stay off Drugs or Internet Safety talk we did not discuss it…wasn’t in the curriculum. Every project was pretty straight forward, no big innovative or creative pieces because that was not in the curriculum. Every single Monday for the last ten years I start class with “How was your weekend?” Not this year…wasn’t in the curriculum. I usually tell a lot of stories. Not this year…wasn’t in the curriculum.
This year the kids did not get my best because I was not able to do all the little things that help the class feel powerful. And let me tell you…teaching is all about the little things. You don’t realize that until you are years into your teaching career. I see all sorts of lists this time of year about how to create class culture, what to do during the first week of school, how to set up your classroom…ehhh.
Great teachers don’t do the big things good, they do all the little things great. The greatest teacher I knew, never did any big thing! You can take all the beginning of school lists and he never did any of them. You had to sit in his class to see that he did all the little things perfectly…all those little things that would not make anyone’s top ten list.
One thing that great teachers do is to not bring kids to water and find ways to make them to drink. They place out bits of salt so that the kids are thirsty when they get there. Teaching is not the preparation of a huge meal, but leaving a trail of breadcrumbs. Leaving a trail of tiny pieces of motivation and spirit that the kids cannot help but follow. In my last post I wrote that kids will learn in spite of a teacher, but a great teacher leaves a trail of breadcrumbs that leads kids to places that they did not know they had inside themselves.
That is where I believe I failed this year. My breadcrumb trail sucked…that is what I thought through my jaded eyes.
Some of the pieces were too small, some places in the trail I gave up leaving them, and in some places they were so big that kids were turned off. I felt as though I had parents constantly following me, checking to see if I would drop any, and then they would report me for litter. Blah…
Here is the thing though…I was the only one who noticed. I was the only one sulking. When I was creating the intro video for the class of 2013-14 parents and kids this week (you can see it at the bottom of this post), I realized that we did some pretty cool things, and that the kids did find places within themselves that they did not realize existed before the year started. What I also missed is that I stopped throwing out breadcrumbs, but they were still falling out of my pockets. I may have had my sights set on doing the great big things this year…and failed…but doing the little things, dropping breadcrumbs, allowed for my year to be a success. Unfortunately for me, I did not realize it until the last day of school. The whole team assembled in the library and kids got up to reflect upon their middle school experiences–many focused on 8th grade–and they were wonderful. Many kids gave me notes and letters…and they were wonderful. I forgot to see the year through their eyes, instead of mine which were blackened in September.
And that brings me to the end of the post. No witty end thought, no deep wisdom to impart. I am still reflecting on last year, but by the end of this post I have started to do it through the eyes of my kids, and that is allowing me to see that next year I need to not lose sight of the fact that the breadcrumbs will make all the difference.
Writing this post has made me realize something that I missed before. That students also leave a trail of breadcrumbs. I think my problem was that I was so focused on mine, that I missed picking up theirs.
Thought I would share my class through the eyes of one student. She wrote it as spoken word, so it was meant to be read by her out loud, but I think it still speaks on its own. Reprinted here with the permission of the student. Re-printed to remind myself that this student was leaving a trail of breadcrumbs throughout the year, and what would have been different if I had caught sight of it from the beginning, and not the end.
(This is for the teacher that taught that impossible wasn’t in our Vocabulary)
As I stepped into Moran Middle School to begin my 8th grade year, I thought to myself, this year will be a breeze as long as I keep my head down and mouth shut.
Right, left, right, left right, I think to myself as I see my feet moving up the ugly yellow and gray staircase.
Then I saw them, I saw the two friends I had made previously before school.
I felt a sigh of relief, but my heart was still thumping so hard that I stared to get sweaty palms. I. Was. Scared.
Who would’ve thought that kids my age could be so intimidating?
I made my way through the day wide-eyed and sweaty palmed. Once I walked Into Mr. Bogush’s class, I knew that I had my work cut out for me.
We received our first project. This was one of many that would be handed out and stressed over throughout the course of the year.
You may be wondering, where is this going, but that was what I had asked myself all year.
It wasn’t until the Mill girls project that I finally understood and found what I was good at. Spoken. Word.
I dreaded going to social studies class because I was always afraid that we would be challenged and given more and more projects. But that was just me being insecure with my lack of creativity.
Mr. Bogush, even though I hated it, pushed me to come out of my cocoon and forced me to grow into a fat caterpillar full of ideas and the will to work hard.
I spent my last year as a middle school student evolving into a majestic butterfly itching to spread its new wings to fly. To soar into high school and apply those ideas to my schoolwork.
Sitting in Math class, frustrated and misled, I blurt out “when are we going to use this in the real world?” This is never going to stay in my head. What the heck are we doing here? Learning 2+2=4 isn’t going to keep us from being poor and why the heck do we need to know that gerunds function as nouns, we should be learning about how to get ourselves out of debt or more along the lines of how to make money and get the heck out of this town.
What many do not realize is that school work does not prepare you for the real world but school prepares us how to live in it. How to survive with many people different from us.
Thinking outside the box is what gets you somewhere in life.
No matter how much I wanted to deny that Mr. Bogush was right, I knew that what he was teaching us, really will help us in life. IF you aren’t proud of your work now, you will never learn to be proud of your work in the future. NO fluff he says as I begin telling him that I want to choose the independent project of doom. My whole eighth grade year I failed at being different from everyone else.
That within of itself is the one mistake that I’ve been making this whole year.
When I look into a mirror, what do I see? I see a 14 year old girl, doubting herself, trying to please everyone else, not wanting to do anything for herself.
It’s all about grades. Think again, writing isn’t just a piece of paper and the slight gliding of a pen. It’s literature, it’s creativity, it’s expression. Do you get the lesson?
That is one mistake. That mistake was that I wasn’t daring enough to grab that chance of showing everyone what I could do.
That the practice I should’ve been practicing wasn’t 1+1=2. It was to always be proud of myself and I wouldn’t just get through but that I would be the Queen of Originality and creating something new.
Thank you Mr. Bogush for believing that I could make a difference.
That if I’m proud then nobody else matters for instance.
Thank you for teaching me over the course of the year that I’m my own loud and proud voice that the world is dying to hear.