Last week I was chatting during lunch with another teacher in his classroom. After a couple minutes, a student walked in and joined us. The student had me for 6th grade math two years ago and has the other teacher for 8th grade math this year. Somehow or another, the conversation meandered from discussing random things like the taste of La Croix and tattoos to a critique of how different things are now compared to two years ago. Along the way, the student mentioned the teaching style and attitude of the other teacher, my current demeanor, and what I was like as a teacher two years ago.
Before I write further, I must state for the record that I was a first year teacher when I had this student in class. I was adapting to teaching 6th grade from student teaching in a high school. There were many days where it wasn’t a question of if a lesson was mediocre. I’ve also seen how this student has grown to be incredibly honest with teachers from being very reserved.
A few comments this student made stuck out to me as proof that I have grown as a teacher. The same comments made me wonder if the challenges I’ve had this year would elicit similar comments from students a few years from now. Rather than attempt to write a bunch of paragraphs, the student’s comments are in quotations below and my related thoughts are in bullet points.
“You tried so hard that year to find something that worked for us.”
- It’s true. I tried a bunch of different homework arrangements, class activities, exit tickets, quiz formats, management strategies, and notetaking arrangements. By the time I finally hit upon the “typical” class that worked for that group of students (checking homework, a guided note page that would be secured into spirals, a short break, a practice activity, and five minutes to start a brief homework assignment), the year was practically done. When I used this format with my next group of 6th graders, it worked fairly well from the start and I tweaked it along the way.
“Every week was you trying something different. Some things worked, but a lot of things didn’t. A lot of times it wasn’t you… It’s just that a lot of us didn’t know what to expect.”
- Consistency was a struggle for me that year. Everyone likes to have some predictably about class. Even though teaching necessitates breaking from routine from time to time, there needs to be routines to break from if I want changes to have an impact. I recognized I needed to change things up over the course of this year, but I at least tried to stick with things for a while because I knew it would help students feel comfortable. It also helped that I had class meetings with my students this year to figure out what was working and what needed to be changed. During my first year, I think I underestimated the value of asking students about the structure of a class.
“You put up with a lot that year… I was disrespectful a lot, but you kept trying with me.”
- Hopefully, I won’t lose that determination.
“I finally figured out that if I just worked, everything went a lot better for me.”
- I talk about work a lot when I teach. I stress its value. I remind students that learning takes work, but work also says a lot about a person’s character. The quality of a person’s work can communicate respect, attitude, and motivation. I cite work ethic when I have individual conversations with students, call parents, or write positive referrals. I sometimes doubt if I make any difference when I talk about work on an almost daily basis. I guess I shouldn’t be so pessimistic.
This post is future reminder for myself. I know I’ll need at some point when a lesson completely flops or I’m wondering if my persistence is in vain.