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One Semester of a Workshop Classroom: A Reflection by Jessica Paxson

It’s December.  If you’re like me (i.e. HONEST), you’ve begun your Very Important Countdowns (V.I.C.s).  

___ LESSONS LEFT TILL FINAL EXAMS

___ DAYS TILL CHRISTMAS BREAK

___ DAYS TILL SPRING BREAK (WILL BEGIN AFTER CHRISTMAS BREAK)

___ DAYS LEFT TO INSTILL LIFELONG KNOWLEDGE INTO THESE SENIORS BEFORE THEY TAKE THE REAL WORLD BY STORM

…AND MOST IMPORTANTLY:

___ DAYS UNTIL I GET TO START ANOTHER NEW YEAR WITH ALL THE KNOWLEDGE I’VE GAINED FROM THIS ONE.

Okay, so I’m not counting down until next school year yet.  First, that would be incredibly overwhelming.  Second, I maybe sorta cry any time someone mentions these students no longer being with me every day.  Third, I just pulled out my sweaters, and certainly do not have my summer reading list ready yet.

However, I am certain (a.k.a. extremely hopeful) I’m not alone in tending to focus far too much on what I can do better, but hardly at all on the victories of the year.  Considering the fact that this is my very first semester of workshop methods, improvements are rampant and victories seem more like weak, flickering dollar store candles.

I thought it would be best to reflect publicly on these victories in the hope that others might reflect on their own faithfulness in the trenches.

imagesStudent Victory #1: Seyi.

Seyi assured me on the first day of school that I would not be able to find him a book he would enjoy.  I said, “Challenge accepted,” and returned the following Monday with a brand new book I knew he would love.  Towering over me at about 6’3” and exuding the desire for personal growth and holding himself to a high standard, I knew Seyi was a basketball player before he ever told me.  During my conference period, I scoured TTT for book recommendations for young men, and this one immediately jumped out at me.  I went to Barnes and Noble and bought Life is Not an Accident: A Memoir of Reinvention.  Monday morning, I greeted Seyi at my door with his book.  As I handed it to him, he said, “This is for me?”  I said, “Yes.  I don’t ever back down from a challenge.”  Seyi brought the book back to me the following Monday and said, “ Mrs. Pax, I want more books like this.”  

Reality Moment #1: I’ve had trouble making any other books stick with him.  I can’t help but feel as though I should have buried the lede.  HOWEVER, I do plan to get to every basketball player with this book.  I’ve got two down so far.

Student Victory #2: Edgar.

Edgar reminds me of myself in that he decides he has an aversion to something and sticks with it.  For me, it’s pigeons (rats of the air).  For Edgar, it’s finishing the last three pages of a book.  I’ve diagnosed this as gamophobia (fear of commitment).  He confirmed this when he said, “Endings are always just disappointing because I imagine something different.”  One weekend, I challenged him to finish a book in three days.  I drew up a sticky note contract and had him sign it.  He came back successful on Monday morning and wanted another contract to finish the entire series before Christmas.  That’s a big deal for a gamophobe!

Reality Moment #2: Not every student will take a sticky note contract quite so seriously.  However, Edgar taught me that kids respond more quickly to challenge and competition than they do to simple routine with no reward.  I need to focus on celebrating each and every finished book and even ambition toward reading.  It’s getting somewhere.  It’s getting a lot further than they were before.  

Student Victory #3: Tiffany.

I asked Tiffany if the vocabulary in her new book was challenging, knowing that she’s really struggled with it in the past.  She said, “No, I actually like that it’s hard because it makes me feel really intelligent.  It’s like a puzzle that I try to figure out with what the rest of the sentence is saying.”  That’s a better explanation of words in context than I’ve given before.  Maybe I should let her teach the lesson!

I just named three students out of 120, but that’s three more students who are set on a path toward becoming lifelong readers.  That’s a win.  

“The great thing about teaching is that it matters; the HARD thing is that it matters EVERY DAY.”

Pour yourself a cup o’ joe–or three–, grab your writer’s notebook and jot down some victories!

Jessica Paxson is an English IV and Creative Writing teacher in Arlington, TX. She also attempts to grapple with life and all of its complexities and hilarities over at www.jessicajordana.com. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram @jessjordana.

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5 thoughts on “One Semester of a Workshop Classroom: A Reflection by Jessica Paxson

  1. […] I’m lamenting over all the Should Have Done’s and Wish I Did’s. […]

    Like

  2. […] had the Tissue Issue and needed to Write When It Was Hard.  Jessica is finding her way in a brand new workshop classroom. And countless sources across the web detail teacher burnout and student engagement […]

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  3. […] am the queen of wanting a do-over.  I will probably say this a million more times before we get to June.  The truth is, I teach […]

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  4. […] ML wrote, “Ok, I’m in!” last Friday on Jessica’s post.  I can’t wait to hear how the move goes, and as I wondered, it got me thinking about my own […]

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  5. ML December 5, 2016 at 9:12 am Reply

    Ok, I’m in! After reading all of these great posts and getting inspired, I’m trying this in the last six weeks of this semester. I have such a good group of kids and they roll with me. I’ve tried a couple of workshop activities with A Lesson Before Dying and it’s going so well. Thanks, ladies!

    Liked by 1 person

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