I know it has been awhile since I’ve updated this blog, so I wanted to clearly state that it will be less about travel and more about teaching from now on. =)
I’m working at a middle school in Rhode Island, this awesome charter school that does everything in its power to support students in all aspects of their lives. I’m a literacy coach, which means I teach intervention classes–small groups of students who aren’t at grade level for literacy skills–and also work alongside content teachers to support students as much as possible.
Right now, I have two interventions–one for 6th grade and one for 8th grade. They both meet twice a week for one hour-long class. It’s a decent chunk of time, but the long gaps between meetings doesn’t always help. Lately, I’ve been very frustrated with my 8th grade class. The nature of interventions is tricky–often, intervention students are the ones who act out because they don’t understand, they don’t typically have the most positive attitude about school, and interventions are not graded classes, so there is no extrinsic reward to get your work done and learn what you need to do. I have eight students in my eighth grade class (fitting, hmm?). They are each wonderful people when I work with them individually (during lunch, one-on-one in class, etc.), but when I’m trying to instruct the whole group, they really push the limit.
Some of my struggles are due to lack of confidence–or experience–in terms of classroom management, but they definitely give me a run for my money. Untrackable, repeated farting noises. Incessant humming during quiet writing time. Shouting out (and over each other) during read alouds. Often, the behavior happens all at once, is hard to pinpoint on specific students, and just gets me frustrated. Some days, I was feeling like all I didn’t even have time to teach between redirections.
At the beginning of this week, though, I met with one of the administrators in my building who would be coming for a full-class, announced evaluation–during my eighth grade class. We had our pre-conference about how I was expecting the class to go, what students might struggle with, and the general logistics of my lesson plan. I told her about my struggles with classroom management, and she gave me some really great advice, which boiled down to this: make that class your absolute favorite class, and make sure they know it. In reality, every class should be my favorite class. Her practical suggestions were to celebrate everything–even if they were only being good for five minutes, celebrate it and make a HUGE deal out of how awesome they are. Tell the whole school! Make sure they know that I think they are awesome and that I love not only what they are doing, but that I love them.
My first class with them of the week–the one before she was due to observe–were actually my lesson plans from the Thursday before Valentines Day. We had ended up with a snow day that Thursday, and the following week (last week) was our school’s February break (that’s a thing in New England, apparently). Our scheduled read aloud was sample letters from the book Other People’s Love Letters: 150 Letters You Were Never Meant to See. Their quickwrite following the book was to write a love letter of their own–to a family member, a friend, or a significant other. They didn’t have to deliver it, but they could if they wanted to. Taking the advice of my supervisor in stride, I added something to that lesson: I wrote them love letters, too.
My letters were nothing fancy–two sentences at most. But I found a fun penguin notepad to write them on, and I dug deep to find honest compliments for each of my eight students. They ended up being things like “I love the confidence you have in yourself, the ease with which you laugh, and your work ethic. I’m so glad you are in our group!” or “I love your sincerity, your patience, and your passion (for food or otherwise). I’m glad you are in our class!”
I was a little unsure how they would take them, or if I was taking the advice I had been given too literally, but it worked brilliantly. They weren’t perfect little angels, but I could start to feel the attitude of the class changing. By writing those notes, I showed them that I cared about them as people, and that even if I wasn’t always happy with the way they were behaving, it didn’t mean that I didn’t like them.
I had my observation today, our second class after my decision to love my students, and so far, things are going well. They still spoke out of turn sometimes, or randomly got out of their seats. But they kept the farting noises to the hallway. They raised their hands, sometimes. They did the work I asked without (too much) complaint.
After the lesson, I got an e-mail from a colleague, sharing out with the rest of the staff some “teacher talk” tips he had received from a PD. As I was scanning through them, one in particular stood out to me: “You can’t complain your way to a better relationship with your students.” I don’t know that I was necessarily complaining about my students before, but I was most definitely venting. And while that may have helped me to feel better momentarily, it wasn’t helping my students, my classroom environment, or me in the long run. But making a decision to consciously and loudly love my students? That seems to be making a difference.