November 24, 2013
I have been busy, busy, busy. I have a schedule to keep and the curriculum is fast-paced. I am in a rush to cram every last bit of information into my students’ long-term memory before their semester final. And my students are in no hurry to learn anything more before their semester break. It has been a battle of wills. One, I am quite proud to say, I lost.
This is the first year since I’ve been teaching that I have not been able to set my students’ learning pace. My current teaching position came with its own predetermined, pre-packaged assignment calendar. At first I thought, “Hey, that’s alright. It will save me time knowing what I’m teaching and when I’m teaching it…and for how long I’ll be teaching it…” Wait, hold up! What was I thinking? Nothing about this inflexible calendar is alright. This inflexible calendar.
Inflexible and rigorous, that is how I would classify the breakneck speed with which I have to try and coax my students to learn. And those two words go against the very nature of most of my students’ learning styles. Any educator worth his salt will tell you that when you cram information into a student’s brain, there is neither teaching nor learning taking place. And that is how I have been running my classes the past two or three weeks. Cram, cram, cram.
“It’s in my students’ best interest if I can just teach them everything they will need to know to do well on the test. I have to prepare them for high school.” Stop. The problem with that philosophy is that students never internalize what they are taught during the cramming sessions. They may keep enough of the information in their short-term memory long enough to pass the test. But come next semester, that information will be long gone.
“It’s in my students’ best interest if they can just learn everything they will need to know to do well in life. They have to prepare themselves for high school.” Stop. Is that even allowed? I mean, should students determine how fast or how slow the learning pace should be? Technically, yes. At the very least, I should not be cramming information into their brains when their bodies haven’t even had time to absorb the lesson from yesterday.
I miss setting the pace. The pace is not some arbitrary date on a calendar. The pace is determined by my observations and the students’ authentic assessments. If the students don’t get the concept, we ain’t moving on.
I also miss the connections with students that setting the pace of my classes has always afforded me. I’d like to think that I teach much more than reading and writing. That had been sorely missing from my daily routine, until last week.
My largest and loudest class had just thundered into class. Backpacks are flung, voices are raised, and in record time, there is a loud, steady hum of adolescent voices in the air. Bell Books are opened, pencils are scratching , keeping time with the hummm. It’s been awhile since I’ve caught up with each of my students, now seems the perfect opportunity. It’s time for me to make my rounds.
Table 1: 2 boys, A. and C.
“Okay gentlemen, I seem to be missing assignments from you two. Look, I’m gonna sit right here, right next to you two until I am sure you are going to finish your writing assignments.”
“Ok, good! You can help us.” C. hands me his letter. “Can you read it? Is it right?”
I read, I mean I really read. “This letter is great, C. Very proud of you. Looks like A. has been teaching you some of his writing tricks!” A. and C. are both smiling proudly as I move to the next table.
Table 2: 2 boys, J. and A, arguing with one another as I approach.
“Hey, hey! What’s going on here? A., you seem the most pisssed off, what’s goin’ on?”
“Miss, J. made this girl hate me! He told her a lie about me and now she’s mad at me! J.’s a bully, he bullied her.”
“Miss, I told her the truth about A, and I told her just one lie.”
“Dude, she likes him!” I blurt out. “And I’m pretty sure A. likes her. So, why would you tell her a lie about your best friend?”
“Yeah, it’s J.’s fault if she hates me, now.”
“Ok, hold up there A. If this girl likes you she likes you, and nothing J. says can change that. Now J, could it be that you told her a lie about A. because you like her and you want her to like you, hmm?”
J. shrugs his shoulders and smiles a sly smile. “Hey! You’re my best friend!” I hear A. say as I slip off to the next table.
Table 3: 2 boys, A. and B. 2 girls, S. and H.
A. speaks up first, “Miss, my dad said to tell you thanks for the phone call. He said he was all ready to yell at me when I got home, but now he’s happy I have a good grade.”
“Great,” I say sarcastically, “it could have gone a lot different. And if you don’t stay in your seat, it will go a lot different. If you get up, without asking, just walk right straight to the vice-principal’s office, because you’ll be serving a detention and breaking your dad’s heart all at the same time.”
Both girls, S. and H. thank me for calling their parents with good news. I like to make it a point to call a group of parents each week to let them know how their child is progressing in my class both academically and behaviorally. It’s always a happy phone call and this was one of the groups I chose this week. “My dad and step-mom got your message and they didn’t call back but, they were both proud of me. And happy, they were happy,” said H.
“Thanks to you Ms. Kunzmann, my mom is buying me the new [game system],” said S (she didn’t really say ‘game system’ but, I forgot which one she said and I don’t want to insult her by writing the wrong one.)
“I see B. is being awfully quiet. He’s saying, ‘Please let her go away, go away.’ But, I’m not going away, B. The phone call I make to your parents is going to be to inform them that you have in-school suspension next week. They won’t be too happy about that, right B?”
“So why couldn’t you just come after school yesterday for 20 minutes. That’s all, 20 minutes. So you would rather have in-school suspension than serve a 20 minute detention with me?”
*Sigh. There’s always one.
My making the rounds was taking a bit longer than I had anticipated, but what the heck, I was making connections with my students. It’s all about the connections. It’s the connections we remember, dear Readers, not the writing of a paragraph, not the reading of a persuasive text, it’s the connections. So far, I have only connected with 1/3 of the students in this class. I still have six more tables to go. Stay tuned, dear Readers, I do believe I’ll be writing a part two. Peace, ~v.