Beginning to Teach | #2

The past few days have been so much fun! After finally completing our training, we (the “teaching teams”) are finally in the classrooms with our students, lesson planning and leading activities. My teaching partner, Ben, and I have been working really hard to think of activities that lend themselves to students of varying literacy and behavioral needs. Something that I’m really focusing on this week is the value held by my organization, 826 Valencia, that says that all students have the capacity and desire to learn, even when they don’t show it.

Some of my students are really distracting to their classmates, refuse instructions or suggestions from adults, and seem to fear no consequence. I had thought initially that they were simply struggling behaviorally and wanted to be somewhere else instead of with us, working on their writing skills. Those things may still be true, but in no time at all I’ve come to find that different approaches really do work for different students. While they may be making noise and disrupting the room, often offering to take them on a walk down the hall to release their energy or focusing on them one-on-one as opposed to with the whole group can make a huge difference. This job is becoming increasingly about knowing students personally and experimenting with different strategies to help them access the part of their mind that is wanting to learn and believes that success is possible. One of my supervising staff members said to us today that people sometimes like the idea of giving every student an “equal” experience or spreading their attention across all students without exception, but the reality is that different students need different levels and types of support, and some students may require certain exceptions to feel truly successful. This really resonated with me, as I saw massive improvements in my classroom between yesterday and today, just with simple adjustments like moving desks around or offering to write students’ ideas as they spoke them to me, since some students struggle with spelling or are still learning English.

I’m still finding it challenging to design lesson plans that will work for every student — some students have trouble sitting still, some don’t know how to write in English, some are pretty advanced in their writing skills, some seem disinterested. Managing the needs of all of these students and supervising a team of volunteer high school student teachers is not the easiest, but I’m coming to accept that every student will be different and every day will be different.

Today, I saw amazing progress with one of my students who usually has a very hard time participating and behaving respectfully. He took on a leadership role with his team to build a 3-ft long bridge out of paper between the desks. I had assumed each bridge would only hold a few clothespins, but he encouraged his team to keep working and they ended up stabilizing a notebook, 2 pair of scissors, and a full roll of tape on their bridge. For week two, I’ve been focusing on not having fixed expectations, even between 9am and noon during the day. It is surprising to see how their energy is channeled each day.

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