Of course, I'll only have a month of actual summer time off before it will be time to get back in my classroom and start preparing for the next school year - but I think I'll be OK with that.
This week has been absolutely amazing. I will admit that when I first started teaching summer school last week, I thought I was going to hate every minute of it... because it just wasn't the same as teaching during the school year.
What I've found out, however, is that a little bit of my sense of humor thrown together with listening to what the students want rather than forcing them to do what I tell them to do goes a LONG way.
I'm pretty sore and beat up this morning... but the pain is worth every second of the fun that I've had these past couple of days with my Jr. High kids. I've almost felt like a kid again. Laughing at silly jokes, teasing and "smack talking" each other, being involved in the games that we're playing, and having the kids come by my classroom throughout the day just to say hi has been extremely beneficial to my ego. I needed to know that these kids were going to leave summer school having a good time in my classes. Don't ask me why... it's just very important.
Well, I guess you can ask me why, because I'm going to end up telling you anyway.
I'm taken back to my interview I had when I first got my job in the school I'm teaching. One of the questions was what kind of teaching style I had.
My answer? Firm but fun.
I went on to explain that I considered myself to be a pretty strict teacher, holding accountability and responsibility as very high expectations in my classroom. Education was important, and I wanted each and every one of my kids to understand why they were learning what they were learning - and why it was important. But, if the kids didn't enjoy what they were learning - it wouldn't matter what my expectations were, they wouldn't be engaged and take with them what they needed. That's why things like interest surveys and student feedback are so important to me - because I want to connect the learning to stuff that actually interests them.
I hated my first couple of days of summer school because the kids were tuned out. Once I got through the tough part of making them at least listen to me, I felt like I was forcing them to "do what I say" regardless of whether it was something they were interested in or not.
And, as I explained yesterday, that just wasn't right with me. I had to learn more about these kids in the short amount of time I had and found out their interests in order to grab their attention and make their time with me meaningful.
That doesn't just go for the Jr. High kids, it held true for the elementary kids also.
In the mornings, I'm supposed to be teaching kids all about simple machines with Lego type kits. Luckily, most of the kids in my classes enjoy that stuff... but they weren't so thrilled about having to put together machines that I told them to put together. A quick poll and a few questions later, I realized these kids wanted the chance to create their own machines. So, I reconstructed my format, told them that this week they would "learn" about how the pieces all work together to make the machines work so that next week, they could design and create their own machines. The engagement level shot up and the kids become enthralled with putting the machines together to learn how it could help them create their own machines.
They will walk out of my classroom next week knowing about the different types of simple machines, hopefully, because of the experiences they had... not because I told them to memorize them. That's important information that they will use next year in their actual classrooms. It would be great to hear that when teachers start teaching about simple machines during the school year, that the kids who came to summer school say "Hey, we learned about that in summer school. I know about the different types of simple machines." And then go on to identify and explain each type because they associate them with a model they constructed with me at some point or another.
It's a little different with Frisbee golf - which is what I'm supposed to be teaching. I don't ever see a point in these Jr. High kids' school lives where a teacher asks them a question and they respond with something they'd learned from playing some frisbee golf with me in the afternoons. Which is why I don't think it's that big of a deal that I've switched to Frisbee football instead of golf. It's what the kids wanted to play, and they are having a heck of a time playing it.
What they don't realize, however, is that they are actually learning. Taking a little chance of implementing some allowed tackling was a pretty big risk to take. Jr. High kids are very rowdy and rambunctious. The chance of injuries is pretty high if things were to get out of control. Not only that, but my risk level is pretty high. If a couple of the boys got upset with each other and decided to duke it out - I'd have to be the one to break it up. Those boys tower over me, and I just know I'd end up with a punch to the face or to be totally knocked off my feet.
But, by setting out the rules...explaining that if anything gets even the slightest bit out of hand, then it would be game over for frisbee football...has made all the difference in the world. These kids are playing a semi-contact sport with each other, and are actually nice about it. If someone gets tackled, then the tackler is right there to help the tacklee up again. Teams are working together to protect the smaller players. Kids from different schools, different grades, and different social groups are all working together - knocking any shyness or differences aside - and are participating in team work. These kids are learning valuable social skills - and skills associated with stepping out of their comfort zones and working together as teams.
I had a teacher make a remark to me yesterday that I didn't quite agree with. When asked why I wasn't teaching frisbee golf anymore, I responded with "I'm doing what the kids want to do". The response I got from the other teacher was "You are in charge. You should be doing what you want to do". Urm. No. By throwing around the "I'm in charge" routine just ends up with kids back at square one - hating their time with me. I can still be in charge and incorporate what they want to do. I think that's what ultimately makes me the teacher I am. Teaching isn't a power trip for me - it's a compromise. Yes, these kids all need to learn that they are going to end up doing things they don't want to do... but that's for another time and place. There are countless opportunities to get that experience. Just ask any of the kids in my math class last year. Not a single one of them wanted to learn their multiplication facts. But, once it was explained and delivered in a way that held meaning and significance, they understood that it was something that had to be done, regardless of how much they hated the process.
Of all the seven classes I've had in the past two days, only one class had a couple of students that weren't really on board with the whole concept. It ended badly. Feelings were hurt, names were called, and someone got pretty banged up from being shoved to the ground so hard that she skinned her knee and arm pretty badly. I am extremely nervous that this one bad situation could be detrimental to the life of frisbee football in my other classes - but I now know that the game won't work for this class, and I have to come up with something else for them. Apparently, some team building skills are very much needed - but not at the level it was introduced.
And that's OK. One out of seven isn't bad. The other six have begged me to continue playing, and no one from those classes have left me hurt, banged up, or in the least bit upset with the outcome of the games - except for maybe that their team lost. But, in the end, most classes didn't even bother to keep score. They just enjoy the experience enough that it didn't really matter who won or lost. It was fun. It is fun. And that's all that matters to them.
I definitely need this weekend to recoup and recover..but I'm now looking forward to next week. Not dreading it a bit. In fact, I might be a little upset that it's all over with next week.
But, I guess it's just a heads up that next year I might have to teach the whole four weeks instead of just two? We'll see.