Thursday, August 29, 2013

My Alter Ego Makes Her First Appearance of the School Year

Yesterday started out like all of my other days have started out.  Kids coming straight in to the classroom, getting to work, talking among themselves after they finished with their work.  

The morning was really good.  The kids worked really hard through math.  Kicked some tail during grammar and spelling, and did awesome on their mini-test in reading.

The atmosphere in my room was a good one.  Happy one.  There was a lot of work thrown their way, which could have resulted in a lot of homework...but the phrase "do it now or do it at home" has really started to get the effect I wanted.  No one wants homework.  

Because my kiddos had put in so much work that morning, I decided to make our social studies time a lot more lax and easy.  We were beginning our topic about the government.  Which, even though I'm not a huge fan of social studies, I really enjoy teaching.  I love discussing the roles of the three branches, and seeing some of the shock that comes from the kids when I tell them that the President really isn't the only boss of the country.

For some reason, kids in the 4th grade are programmed to think that the President is some kind of king.  He is the all powerful.  He makes all of the decisions, the laws, is the judge, jury, and executioner.  So, when I give them the scoop that the President works with two other branches of government to do those things... it's quite a wake up call for them.

Before our lesson, I gave each of the kids a vocabulary record the words that they would need to know from our lesson.  The original plan was that we'd have our discussion, they'd look up the words after, and then they'd turn the sheet in.  But, again, because they'd worked so hard that morning.. I figured I'd cut them some slack.  Instead of them looking up the words AFTER the lesson, I told them that as we came to each word... I'd read them the definition and they just had to find the definition on the sheet and fill in the appropriate word.  Basically, yeah, I was going to give them all the answers.  The only real work they had to do was go down the list of 15 definitions and fill in the right word next to it.  

Our lesson went really well.  I drew a big tree on the board with the appropriate branches.  I wrote the responsibilities for each branch under the heading.  I stopped after giving the definition of each vocabulary word so they'd have some time to fill in the appropriate box.  I read the definition several times, so that they wouldn't forget what I was talking about between the time I stopped talking and the time it took them to find the definition.  The kids were involved in the discussion...sharing their thoughts and misconceptions that they had about the government.

A few times, I noticed that there were a few kids that weren't writing anything.  I reminded them, again and again, to find the definition...even pointing to the correct one for some of the kids... and telling them to write in the word we were talking about.

And then our lesson was over, and it was time to grade our vocabulary sheet and record the grade.  An easy 100%.  But, in my mind, the grade wasn't really related to being able to go through the book and fill in the right was about paying attention and joining in with the discussion and just recording what we were talking about. I figured there was more learning going on that way... yes, by even giving them the answers...than it would have been if I rushed through the lesson and then asked them to do the hunting and finding and reading all by themselves.

But, as I started to collect grades...I was shocked.  First person...missed 5.  The second person missed all 15.  The next person missed 12.  Then another missed all 15.  Then another missed 13.  Finally, calling on the 6th or 7th kid, there were a few kids that had received their 100% or maybe missed one..maybe two because they got two confused.  

By the end of collecting all the grades, I had a total of 5 zeros, and only 5 or six of the kids had received an A or B.  The rest were all Fs.

I was completely and utterly SHOCKED.

How on earth had these kids made such bad grades?  I had stood up at the front handing out all of the answers.  Not only did I give the answers verbally, but I drew a nice graphic on the board that covered about 10 of the 15 vocabulary words.  I had told the kids what page in the book the vocabulary word was on (in bold and highlighted font) when we came to it, in case they needed to see the words and match some of them up.  

And that's when my alter ego...a/k/a Mean Teacher started to rear her ugly head.  I was NOT happy.  In fact, I was down right livid.  Had it been a situation where it was difficult for the kids to find the right words or to read the definitions... then, OK.  Which, for some was the case...which is why I took it upon myself to help those kids out by pointing out the definition on their paper.  Yet, come to find out, most of the Fs came from the kids just plugging a word in willy nilly on the sheet...not paying attention AT ALL to the matching the words with the correct definition.  And all because they assumed that when I said "easy 100%", that I would just give them all 100% without making sure they'd done what I'd asked.


Yes.  A child actually told me that I had said they'd be getting 100%.. so they didn't think they had to put the word in the right spot, and other kids agreed.  

OK, so maybe some mixed communication, now that I'm thinking about it.. but that's not what I was thinking when I heard those words.  I need to do a better job of explaining what "easy 100%" means compared to "guaranteed 100%" which is what they thought I meant.  

That was it.  I went off on my first tirade of the year.

I raised my voice.  I told them how shocked and appalled I was.  I reminded them that the reason I had been so easy with them in the first place was because they had worked so hard that morning...and yet, they expected that meant they didn't have to do ANYTHING to earn that grade.  It was as simple as looking at the board, listening to our conversation, being a part of the conversation, looking in the book if need be, and filling in the blank next to the definition I WAS GIVING THEM.  And that they had thrown in back in my face with an assumption that I was going to give them a passing grade anyway, so why bother?

What made it worse, in my mind, was the fact that there was no disappointment on their faces.  No realization that they were receiving a bad grade when I'd handed them each and every answer.  No signs of remorse or sadness that they had disappointed me.  And that turned my anger in to dire sadness.

That's when the mother/teacher came back out again.  

Mean Teacher was on standby...but I switched my approach to that of sadness and disappointment.  Reminded them that they hadn't only let themselves down, but me too.

I gave my speech on doing everything in my power to make this school year successful and teaching them everything they needed to know.  But also molding them, inspiring them, and challenging them to overcome feats they never thought possible.  I then admitted my own mistake.  Maybe I shouldn't be giving them answers.  That goes against everything I believe it.  No wonder they didn't do the work... there was no real work involved.

That did it.

Mean Teacher doesn't hold a candle to Sad and Disappointed Teacher.

That's when heads started to drop.  Eyes started to swell, just a little.  And realization finally set in about what they had done.

I got the kids going on Writers Workshop...and started to hear a few apologies.  If apologies didn't come in words, it came from those that told me how hard they were working on their writing.. how much they'd important it was for them to write a great story.

We ended our day by me reminding them that we'd start over again today.  It would be a fresh start.  I would think about better ways to make the lessons more engaging...and fun.  But, they were to come back knowing that working hard was expected ALL OF THE TIME.  I had high expectations for each of them, and in order for me to do my part...they had to be my partners.  Right there with me.  Giving me all they've got.

And today we'll see if that's the case.

I have thought about my mistakes.  I've come up with some ideas to change my style.  Or really, going back to my roots.  I did that same lesson last year, and when one of my old students came to visit me after school she asked if we had made the tree posters that went along with the branches of government lesson.  And it hit me.  There are SOOOO many other ways to teach these kids vocabulary.  And I just have to keep working hard finding those alternatives.

Teaching isn't about's about encouraging, inspiring, and motivating.  

Sometimes, I forget that.  But, I'm going to make it a point to fix it.  Now.


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