yesterday was the final day of 2nd quarter. The students were there for only half a day, as the afternoon was reserved for teachers to do grades and catch up on things. Most of us had completed our grading. I had, although I will head to school this morning to give some students a chance to raise their grades so that either they will not fail or they can achieve a higher letter grade.
I have been with my students for almost all of the last quarter. I have gotten to know them within the context of the school and increasingly in the context of their families and the larger community. Some can walk to school. Others take a bus, or Metro, or both. A few are transported in family cars.
By now I know their personalities, their strengths and weaknesses, in some cases their hopes and fears.
I wish I had more than three days to reflect. I was off yesterday because i had a tooth pulled early in the morning. I reflected some about the weeks as l recovered from the procedure, and have continued that process this morning, before I head to school.
I am not paid for this. Were I to volunteer to assist for the regular 1/2-day Saturday school, I would receive extra compensation. But that focuses on math and reading and there are those better qualified for that than am I, and there are teachers who need that compensation more than I do.
I will be in my room for at least 30 minutes before Saturday school begins at 9 and will stay after it ends at noon for any of my students who may come for the regular extra help but still want help with me. If few or none show up, I can work on my plans and make notes on my students.
But for now let me offer these thoughts . . .
I know I am making a difference for at least some students. I stayed after school late on Thursday to provide another opportunity to make up work and give me an excuse for raising grades.
I have high standards for what I expect.
Many of my students had failed 1st quarter with my predecessor, some unfairly.
Were they to fail again this quarter, some would give up, even though they could still pass for the year.
I want to challenge them to grow, but I also need to encourage them.
When they come for extra help like on Thursday or possibly today, I can work more closely with them than I can during the regular class period, even though our classes are relatively small (my largest currently 18) because our students need so much attention.
I am still trying to teach them how to do things I think are basic\
- how to take notes that are other than word for word copying
- how to read and restate things into one's own words
- how to use the support features in the textbook to help make sense of material that is often several grades ahead of their own reading level
- how to write basic answers to question other than beginning with 'because" and copying something word for word
- how to connect one piece of learning with previous learning and with their own experience
those are basic academic skills. But there are things just as important:
- how to handle conflict with another student
- how to own one's own behavior
- how to learn not to let other people push on's hot buttons
- how get rid of excess energy without being out of control and/or disruptive
- how to wait, not to interrupt just because one is impatient
- how to trust that they can do some things on their own, and even if they make mistakes learn how to correct them individually
One would think many of my students are ADD or ADHD watching their behavior. And yet part of the problem is the emphasis on test scores (the school is currently in some jeopardy) has meant that they have neither gym nor music so they are often so full of energy they have problems focusing. One of my most difficult behavior problems admitted to me this week that he flips his pencil across the room to have an excuse to get out of his seat. Others deliberately break their pencil points so they an justify getting up and going to the pencil sharpener. And I wonder if not only behavior problems but also ironically test scores might not improve were we to better address the issue of the energy our students have.
I have also begun thinking about next year. Yesterday we were supposed to turn in our intentions for the next school year. I honestly do not know. My inclination is not to return, even without something else in hand. It is not that I am not being productive, but if I am to teach I know I am better suited for high school. And yet I also know that I have little time left to make a difference in other ways. I know i can be a teacher without being in a classroom - after all, at least some of my writing is a form of teaching, and I only have a few more years where I can run at the level of intensity at which I have operated for the past two decades. Even now I am often too exhausted at the end of my school responsibilities to do other things that matter to me, including continuing my own learning through reading.
I have filed applications for possible high school positions in several jurisdiction - I hold valid certificates in MD, DC and Virginia. Nothing may come of any of that, and I am unlikely to receive offers before the summer, although one never knows. I have let a few friends in politics and government know that I might be interested come mid-June in exploring other options. And we are re-arranging our finances in a way that will give me even more flexibility. We are cutting some expenses, paying down some high-interest or higher payment obligations, and building up some capital reserves.
I am glad I came to this school just before Thanksgiving.
I look forward to doing what I can to make a difference, which is why within the next thirty minutes of writing this sentence I will be in my car heading to school for the morning, even should no children show up.
I have grown as a person and as a teacher because of how they challenge me.
But I wonder yet again if I need more time and energy to try to change educational policy to help more children?
There are possibilities of change I had not previously expected.
There are school boards in Texas, principals in NY, teachers in Seattle, student groups in New Orleans and elsewhere, parent groups across the country, and educational supporters everywhere now pushing back against what had been the conventional wisdom on educational change, a pattern of changes that has been destructive.
Perhaps the greatest contribution I can make is to use whatever talents I might possess to assist in that pushback.
And yet I remain torn. Even though in some ways I am unsuited for my current teaching position, I know that I serve my students well, perhaps better than anyone they can get to replace me.
I am respected by my superiors and by my colleagues.
But I am also required to shape how I teach in ways which which I have some strong disagreement. I cannot be significantly different than what the other teachers on my team do, or it confuses some of the children.
I truly love them.
I want to help.
Which is why I have not flatly said I will not return for another year, even as I realize I probably should do something different.
In the meantime, I will give whatever I can to make a difference.
Which is why I now need to pack up, get in my car, and head to school.