I have been reflecting a lot on my teaching and my students in these first two weeks of class. We are back in school, all 2200 students, and wearing masks all day long. When I read Sarah Krajewski’s post, Control What You Can, the other day I felt like she was reading my mind. This year I am teaching a freshman reading support class and my students have challenged me in ways that I haven’t seen since I first started teaching twenty four years ago. They are pushing me to be a better teacher every day. Here are a few things I have already learned:
Students are out of school sync. For many of our students, they have not set foot in a school in over 18 months. My biggest worry was that they would be muted and quiet coming into the classroom. That was not the case! They haven’t seen many of their friends in person or on screen so they are so excited to be around each other. They LOVE to talk. That being said, they needed some reminders of what is sometimes okay to do/say in school and what might be better outside of school. We have had many conversations in my class already about the different expectations between remote learning and in person learning.
Vulnerability with students is more important than control. The first week we spent a lot of time on community building and setting expectations in our class. Our class spent two days creating our class norms, which were what I had hoped they would say without me writing them myself. But I realized right after doing this activity that their definition of respect was not the same as mine. They knew what they were “expected to do in school” but application of those norms was NOT as easy for them and I lost my cool the first week of school. So embarrassed, I reflected right away with colleagues and later in the evening came across the article, “Reframing Classroom Management: A Toolkit for Teachers,” on the Learning for Justice website and the paragraph below hit me. I wanted my students to be compliant, but that isn’t what respect is to them. They really just want their teachers to get to know them. The next day I started class with an apology for my actions and shared what I reflected on. We had an honest discussion about how hard it is to be back in school after 18 months and what they need from me. The most common response: belief in them, positivity, and encouragement even when they do things that I think are better suited for hanging out with friends.
Students need structures and routines. My students thrive on structure and organization which wasn’t as easy to do via Zoom. So each day when they come in I remind them to grab their binders from our cabinet, plug in their phones to charge, take out their independent reading book, etc. I use timers to hold myself accountable and to make sure that the routines go long because I get distracted. We start with a simple attendance question or a quick “how are you?” and go right into word study when the bell rings. I book talk a book and we then read before moving on to our main lesson. When given structure over chaos, they choose structure any day.
Listen to your students and be flexibile. I started the year with with a two week plan for what I thought we would accomplish in our class. I learned quickly that flexibility is key in my class. Certain activities just took us longer than other support classes and I needed to adjust. They also didn’t have the stamina to work for as long as I thought they would so we are doing things like a gradual build in independent reading and take breaks as needed. By listening to my students and observing their behaviors, I am really trying to adjust and meet their needs, emotionally and academically, where they are at right now.
Please focus on joy! Sarah was 100% spot on when she said focus on the positive and control what you can. There is so much negative in the world around us and even through the rough moments look for the bright spots in your day. Compliment students when you see them doing something right, even if it is as simple as putting their phone off to the side during independent reading. Ask them about their lives, their routines, their families. Celebrate successes and look for those smiles underneath their masks.
Find your marigolds. Find your people who will support you and have your back no matter what. Find those who will build you up and help you reflect and grow during this transition back to “normal”. Without my “people” I wouldn’t be in an emotional space to write this post.
While this wasn’t exactly the way I had hoped to start my year, I will say that I am so grateful to be back in school full time. Being in the presence of students and not behind black screens rejuvinates and inspires me to do better.
Wishing you all a healthy and happy start to the school year.