Wednesday, March 19, 2008

I like kids, I just don't think I could eat a whole one

Well, I had hoped to post much more during this short break but it just hasn't turned out that way. Lucky for you there are only 11 weeks of school left and then I'll at least get back to posting regularly.

Yesterday was the first day of the break where I actually had a normal day- the first few days were spent mainly resting and getting better from a pretty rough bout of the common cold. I feel really lucky that I got sick just before break, believe it or not, because I never could've taken this much time to rest and stay home during the regular work weeks. I'm looking forward to getting back to school and finishing off the rest of this year. I'm not quite burned out but mighty crispy around the edges, and looking forward to doing nothing productive or even slightly intelligent for about 3 months. I've done a lot this year to establish myself as a teacher that can and does contribute to the team, but that has meant a ton of work on my part. The 2nd year is supposed to be so much easier! And it is, really, but I'm hoping the 3rd year is about 1/8 of the work this year was. Whew. I need a long summer break to rest and recoup and drink lots of wine and watch pointless, mind-numbingly bad tv and sleep way too late.
One thing I have really learned this year that has made a huge difference is what real teaching means. I know that sounds vague, and this probably won't make sense to anyone except the few other teachers out there that read this blog, but when you start out teaching, you have so many ideals about how your classroom will be. I know that I was convinced that I would be different from the teachers that I experienced growing up. I thought that I would do things in a totally new way and that old conventions would have no place in my classroom. 100!% of my students would pass the tests. I'd take the time to make sure every student learned in their own unique way. Blah blah blah.

Of course when you're thrown into a classroom situation you begin to realize that the reason so many teachers are the same is because they're working for sheer SURVIVAL. Of course so many kids slip through the cracks- the teachers are forced to move on and cover material and leave others behind so that they can get enough kids to pass so they can get their contract renewed. It really has so little to do with the kids, and so much to do with the system. I know that sounds so negative and you hear that over and over but until you're actually caught up in the bureaucracy, it's difficult to understand how so many teachers are set up to fail or set up so that just reaching status quo is already way more work than they are capable of doing. And thus explains the majority of my first 2 years.

What's made a difference to me recently is that I've had a mentor. Like a real mentor that works in the classroom and knows what she's doing and strives to create an incredible learning environment for her kids. A mentor that took me under her wing and showed me how she did things and little by little has cut me off things to try on my own without any help, even when I ask for it. So essentially, bit by bit she's raised the standard for my teaching and then forced me in tiny steps to do it on my own. It's amazing the difference this has made to me to 1.) have someone I can model myself after and 2.) have someone to work with very closely that is a master teacher and that can answer my 7 billion daily questions. But what this has really done (which is the most amazing thing of all) is shown me how to bring my classroom to life. My instruction has taken an amazing turn because I have not only learned the best way to know what to teach, but I have just now begun to understand the best way that kids learn. That means when the kids say, "this is boring..." then I need to take a step back and realize that if they are thinking that, then chances are that they AREN'T LEARNING ANYTHING. Whoa. What a slap in the face. And so I've started to read a lot about how the brain works and what kinds of learners there are and what that means for me. For instance, about 70% of all instruction is auditory and verbal, and about 70% of all learners are kinesthetic. Does that seem weird? Why are we forcing kids to learn material in a way they are naturally going to have a harder time doing so? The real reason, whether teachers want to admit it or not, is because it's easier to prepare a lesson where we lecture and take notes than one where we are forced to set up extensive hands-on materials. But in the long run, what a difference it makes.

And here's how I know things have changed: in every class, there are a few kids that will almost always make good grades on a test, a few kids that will almost always fail, and a bunch in the middle that will average around 70's or 80's. BUT when you begin teaching the right way, and working lessons in a totally new realm, those kids that almost always fail will begin to succeed. And not just by barely passing, either. I mean those kids will begin to ace it. And that is an amazing feeling. It's amazing not just because you're doing your job the right way, but it's amazing to see kids that have no confidence in their abilities begin to see how much they can do. It's an entire change in their consciousness. And that's when I take the opportunity to point out to them how smart they have been all this time, all these years when they were making bad grades- not because they couldn't do it, but because their teachers were the ones who were failing. Failing miserably. Failing in not only doing a good job teaching but failing in giving these students what they needed. And what they needed was to know that they could succeed.

So there you go. There's the huge (and I mean like life-altering huge [like Tom Cruise Scientology video huge]) awakening I've had regarding my job recently.
That calls for a nap.

More to come (hopefully before June),


Snobby Bobby said...

For you peeps that haven't had the luxury of seeing Lori working with her students, it's AWESOME! Her kids love her, like really love her. Like they tell her they love her and hug her, it's really great to see.

She's the teacher that you remember as a kid. The one who would take time out of her day to help you with homework or just life issues as a kid, the teacher that really cares.

And these kids are low income, get moved around a lot, CPS is in the picture frequently, broken homes, these are all common every day occurances for them. I love the fact they have Lori in their lives and in that classroom everything is okay.

Sorry baby, I'm tooting your horn for you, but you deserve it.

I love ya!

Carver said...

Great post Lori. I have a wee inkling of what it would be like to teach (and I mean very tiny inkling). I volunteered at my daughter's elementary school for enrichment activities once a week in the late 1980s.

The kids were divided into small groups according to learning level although they weren't supposed to know that. I worked with children who were developmentally lagging in reading skills. Drove my daughter nuts because she didn't understand why I never got her group and I couldn't tell her it was because I worked with children who had to work at a slower pace.

Even working with 1/4 of the kids in the class (divided into 4 groups according to skills), I thought it was exhausting and difficult and yes rewarding. It was enough to show me that there was no way I could have worked with 4x that many kids who were all at such different levels. I hope you are over your cold soon and that summer break will be here before you know it.

I read Bobby's comment and it came as no surprise to me that you are that kind of teacher.

Cheers to you for doing the work you do, Carver

Anonymous said...

I am exhausted after reading that --- your ming goes and goes and goes...
love you miss you

Chris said...

I found your blog while poking around on the CrazySexyCancer site (I think there was a link on baldylocks's blog). Love, love, love the pictures! Thanks for making me smile.

BaldyLocks said...

Wow. I'm stunned and amazed at your depth of caring for your students and how they learn. I struggled and failed in school but when I got to university I received A+ 's, all the way. Once I even recieved an A++, although I'm sure it wasn't official, ha ha.

It's because I finally learned how I learn (if ya know what I mean). A lot of pain and suffering could have been avoided if someone had just taken a little time with me!

One of my sons has learning disabilities and is very smart but can have trouble with the most basic things. He never misbehaved but every year teachers would send him in the hallway and yell at him. I had to have words with one teacher who outright insulted him. It was awful!

I finally found a school that could help him and now he is catching up to everyone else and knows what he wants to do when he graduates. I'm so proud of him.

We need more teachers like you who care. That bit of effort you put in can literally change a life. You're amazing! It's a tough job!

Anonymous said...

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