"I told them what was going to be on the test...they filled out a study guide in class, and they still failed it...what is wrong with these kids?"
Has anyone else had the pleasure of hearing these words come out of a colleague's mouth? I really, really hope the answer is "no"; but I suspect it is more common than we want to admit. That quote was actually something I heard repeatedly from a partner teacher that I had for just one year. Back then...I was small, I was quiet and I kick myself for that. I didn't have the confidence or the strength to stick up for those kids. Those children that would come to me, with their heads hanging low. Those children that came to me crying, scared and broken. I didn't have the back bone, to speak up. But now I do. I speak up for those children and any others that are being made to feel less than. Especially when this is coming from someone who should be a trusted adult.
School should not be a game of "gotcha", it is not "us vs them". It should be us FOR and WITH them.
The other day, I heard that in a high school survey, a majority of students didn't feel like they had any connection to an adult at their site. It is disheartening, but it's true. I picture my own children. My son, who played the game of school, but didn't feel any sort of ties to his school or teachers. My daughter, who on numerous occasions has said "Mr./Mrs. X hates me." *I do talk to her about perception and that this is probably not the case...but it is her truth. And it is heart wrenching.
How does this happen? Why does this happen? I believe it all starts with how we, as educators, answer this seemingly simple question:
What do you teach?
I would hope that the answer is and always will be: STUDENTS. They should be our beginning, our middle and our end. That is who and why we are in this. Let us not lose track of that.
This post was inspired by my friend, Daryl Myers. He is an English teacher, but as you will see...so much more. The other day, we were talking about his class, his classroom and his students. I knew, without him even telling me, that he believed the above. He believes that above all else...he teaches students. Here were some of the hints:
1) His room is not just a classroom, it is a community. It is a place where students feel safe to share and take risks. He spent time and effort to create this culture over curriculum. And it pays off in dividends. His students (past and present) send him emails thanking him for believing in them, for supporting them and for inspiring them. They bring him custom made cakes, memorable t-shirts and even have created a site all about him. I don't share this because of the "stuff" his students gave or have done for him. It's quite the opposite. I share this because it is about what he has done and given his students. I told him that this is not the norm, but it should be. It is a testament to how special he is as an educator and a human, because he IS all about his students.
2) His door is ALWAYS open. His room is packed at nutrition and lunch. His students feel that their classroom is their haven. In fact, they do not even call it a classroom...they call it a sanctuary. THIS is a teacher that students feel connected to. THIS is a teacher that students come back to. THIS is a teacher that changes lives. THIS needs to spread.
3) He understands the power of relationship. He works hard to create a culture and community within and beyond those four walls. When I say- beyond, I am speaking to the fact that current and former students consider themselves "Writers For Life" (W4L) because that is who they are upon entering his class and that is who they become. It means something to him AND them. It is community.
4) He doesn't "teach to the test" (can I hear an AMEN?). What he teaches TO are his students. He teaches TO and FOR THEIR life. He leads and encourages them to write passionately...to find their voice...to express themselves through different means and different media. He incorporates the things that are relevant to the students and leverages that for THEIR own good. His class is more than just the curriculum, it is more than just the subject...his students are more than just a score. And THAT my friends, is what makes all the difference.
Oh, and may I share...this is a middle school teacher? Middle school! I can only dream that my 8th grade daughter could be a part of such an amazing experience!
Here is my call to action: What can you do tomorrow, to ensure that your students know you are in it for them? How can you show them that you are their guide, their activator, their support and their cheerleader? What can you do to change lives? Now do it.
Mother, teacher, TOSA, GCE Level 1 & 2, Encourager of others.
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