My friend Jackie sent me a link to this blog: Setting a Work Schedule to Make Us Better, Saner Teachers. Somehow she sees inside my head.
My teaching world grew when I changed my pedagogy to readers and writers workshop. Over time, I also became so passionate about helping my students move as readers and writers I kind of lost my love for what started this change in the first place. Sometimes I get so busy reading the next great YA novel, or searching for mentor texts, or inventing new ways to get my reluctant students to write that I forget that I really just love my students. I love them.
I need to let them know that.
With all my musings about resolutions, (If you haven’t seen my posts for the past three days…) I probably need to give it up and follow the trail of those leaving the #onelittleword hashtag.
Do you remember when you first learned to spell it? I do. I wrote it everywhere. On notebooks. On desks. On the wooden slat holding my sister’s bunk bed above my head. (Years later I would also write the names of every boy I ever crushed on. It’s quite a collection.)
I need to reclaim the feeling I felt when I first learned to spell love. I need to spread it like I spread the lead of those pencils so long ago. My students will respond to my urgings to read and to write with quality and care, if they know I love them — not as readers and writers, although that is true, but as humans who deserve it because all humans do.
So, I’m thinking about how. How do I show my students love?
I read this post by my friend Jennifer: Teach Like An Artist. I like this idea of minimalism. I need to clear the clutter and refocus on the things I know work. My values are similar to Jennifer’s, and it’s by focusing on these things that I will show greater love for the students in my care. [It only looks like I copied Jen’s values. We just hunk alike.]
The Core Values of My Classroom
1. Empathy. We talk about windows and mirrors in my class a lot. We read to know what it means to be human. Do you see yourself in this book? What do you learn about someone else in this one? Do we make connections with individuals and characters as we read. Do we try to learn where their thoughts and feelings are coming from?
My classes are more diverse than they’d been in years. We have an incredible opportunity to step inside another’s shoes — if we only will.
Also, I must learn about my students lives.
(from Empathy in Education) Empathy has long been an intrinsic part of the education system, “if schools are involved in intellectual development, they are inherently involved in emotional development” (Hinton, 2008, p. 90). A student’s emotions coming into the class affect the way, and how much they learn. Educators must be able to connect to, and understand their students in order to best serve those students’ needs “focused on nurturing learning rather than judging performance” (Hinton, 2008, p. 91). Teachers in the classroom face students from all different backgrounds, sometimes very different from their own.
I think about this at the start of every school year. I am glad I’m thinking about it again now. I can do more now.
2. Authenticity. I cannot keep touting choice when I sometimes forget that “Choice without boundaries is no choice at all,” per Don Graves. I need to make sure that students are able to explore what matters to them, but I must guide them in directions that truly help them explore. Too many are afraid of the struggle of research and evaluation. They take first pick or rely on me to share my opinion. I want them learning how to form their own. I believe this is where TALK in the classroom is so important. Students are free to be themselves because we’ve established a comfortable learning environment — it’s safe — so students know they can express and share their beliefs.
I mentioned in another post that I used to write every assignment I gave my students. I commit to doing that again. They need to see me struggle and grow and share as a writer just like I ask them to.
3. Quality. Somewhere along their learning journey, many of my students missed the bit on producing and turning in quality work. They focus on completion instead of quality. So far this year, it’s been an uphill battle with students expecting to do well on work that is poorly done. I spoke with a colleague just today. She said that she’s noticed the same problem in the business world: a bank telling a customer to go to a different branch because “I’ve never done this before,” instead of attempting to learn how to do a task. Imagine if doctors, mechanics, the engineers who build our roads just shirk their duties and look for the quick and easy way through tasks? We are in trouble. My students need to know the value of producing work they know represents their best selves. I will refuse to take anything less.
“If it’s not worth doing well, it’s not worth doing,” my mother often said (mostly about chores around the house, but still.) I must make sure my students see the value in the tasks I ask them to complete. The quality of these tasks will reflect the quality of the work students put into them.
More talk, better conference, additional Harkness discussions. That is how I will show my love for my students, and how I will help them have an even better than the first second semester.
Penny Kittle taught me that “writing floats on a sea of talk.” Natalie Goldberg taught me “Talk is the exercise ground.” I believe that when students talk about their thinking, about their plans for writing, they write more — and they write better. I believe that when the classroom is lively with energetic voices we learn and grow together. We learn to listen and to care for the thoughts and feelings of others. It’s through our formal class discussions that my students have learned how to analyze a text. It’s through my one-on-one discussions that I’ve learned where they struggle and how to help them grow as individual readers, writers, thinkers, and contributors in our society.
I’ve started writing notes to my students. Here’s another thing I used to do that brought positive results. I bought nice cards (Half Price Books has a lovely selection as teacher-friendly prices.) Every day I write one or two notes per class period. I highlight traits that I admire. I encourage. I notice. Students respond with higher quality work, more participation in class, sometimes even happier faces. My handwritten message, signed “Warmly, Mrs. Rasmussen” often works better than any conference with a student face-to-face.
And tomorrow students think and explore and decide upon their own #onelittleword.