Thursday, August 27, 2015

When teaching is more like learning

Over the summer, I taught my first ever class of students. I was assigned to teach 11th and 12th grade English Language Arts. The class focused mostly on analyzing texts and making claims. After only a few brief weeks of training, I was expected to manage behavior in a classroom, create lesson plans, deliver engaging content, and assess the students' understanding of the material. Guess what? I did it. I survived. The best part? I think I actually taught some stuff. My class LEARNED. The better part? So did I. Below are a few of the lessons that my class taught me over the summer. While writing this, I had new teachers in mind. However, if you are an experienced teacher or not a teacher at all, I think this is still worth a read. If anything, it is inspiring to remember the profound perspectives that every human (even kiddos) on this earth has and our ability to affect the lives of people with whom we interact. Enjoy!

Learning is more important than the lesson. When I say that, I mean lesson plans are made to be ignored (sparingly, but still). Create space for that when planning a unit. Sometimes students have revolutionary ideas that are so fascinating you can't help but explore them further. Other times, students will be so invested in a text that they make amazing connections to their own life and feel as though the classroom is a safe space to share. These are profound educational moments that are transformational not only for your students, but for yourself. Embrace them. 

Every kid is a genius. Really. Throughout the 4 short weeks I taught my first class, I saw every single child have a moment of genius. Whether it be finding meaning in the text that I hadn't even found or empathizing with a character in a super profound way - every child had a moment of brilliance. If a student doesn't think they are smart, their way of thinking just has yet to be activated by traditional education. Make it your job to find it. It could change a student's life.

Sharing a little about yourself goes a long way. Students find it a lot harder to disrespect a teacher and a lot easier to learn from a teacher that they see on a human level. Little moments of vulnerability, like admitting a mistake or sharing a weakness, mean so much to students. Telling kids about your family, friends, hobbies, and past help them to relate to you. Even the kids you would never think actually care, still find your personal life a little bit interesting.

One of the most terrifying aspects of teaching is that every action matters. Students remember what you do way more than what you say. The way you respond to a student's answer to a question, especially the wrong answers, defines the way students feel about themselves and the way students feel about education. I'm not sure if this ever becomes less scary, but it always motivates me to keep a positive frame of mind and stay focused on my job.

Never let a kid "slip by." Chances are, they are "slipping by" because they are good it. Why are they good at it? Teachers year after year let them do it. Letting the floaters know that they can't get away with that in your class is the best thing you can do for them. Even if you get push back from the child, holding high expectations for them is the number one way to communicate that they matter.

That definitely isn't all I learned, but that is what stands out at the moment. In a few short days, I will have 5 new classes to teach me even more. Is there ever a time that you learned from someone or something that you didn't expect? 

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