Cross-posted from the North to South Education blog.
Today marks my 8th day in the classroom as an urban educator! Within the first two weeks, I experienced all of the craziness of schedule mistakes, mis-communication from administration, and new classes beginning on the second week (yes…our schedule was switched and we began a brand new class on the second week of school…), but the most amazing part of the first two weeks was my wonderful students. So far, we have had insightful discussions about the goodness of life, whether or not certain wrongs are unforgivable, and whether or not hate speech should be regulated. I’ve been amazed by how much students enjoy sharing their opinions on topics such as philosophy and politics. Not only do they enjoy sharing their opinions, they have very good opinions to share!
However, I’ve also been amazed by how low skilled some of my students are. In reading their reflections and grading their pre-year assessments, I’ve recognized a huge gap in my students’ skills and knowledge. On their practice ACT exam, the average score for my seniorswas a 13. I definitely have my work cut out for me this year.
As a teacher, I have become a person of influence in my students’ lives. They want to know my opinion about everything from movies to religion. Furthermore, my opinion about who they are matters to how they see themselves. Today, the class was participating in a Socratic seminar about The Kite Runner. All of the students had written a reflection and I was walking around the room, monitoring who was contributing to the conversation and who was zoned out. One of my students, M, has a lot of behavior problems and is constantly distracting other students. I walked around to his desk, asked to read his reflection, and whispered to him, “You know, this is a really good reflection. You should share this with the class!” Less than a minute later, M raised his hand to contribute his opinion with the class.
Later in the discussion, I walked to another student, S, and asked to read his reflection. S is always quiet during class, and I know that a lot of the time he checks out of the discussion, even though he’s very smart. I read S’s reflection and said, “S, that’s an awesome opinion. I know that everyone else would like to hear it too.” Once again, a couple minutes later, S raised his hand and contributed his opinion to the class–which everyone clapped and cheered for, because it was really good.
Lastly, during a debate we were having in class, one of my lowest students, R, was having a hard time grasping the argument of the reading, so I read it with him and the rest of his group. I asked R to paraphrase the paragraph that he read and then asked him to pull out the argument. With just a little bit of prodding, he articulated a well-crafted argument. In many classes, R would have not contributed his opinion, but today he chose to stand up three times during the debate and argue his case.
I’m learning that everything I do in class has an effect on my students–everything. I have to choose to be intentionally positive with my students, vocalizing their strengths and when they do things well. From what I’ve seen, students respond so well to positive praise, even the kids that are the hardest to reach. If these kids can start to see their self-worth in the first two weeks, imagine where they’ll be in the first two months!
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