Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Called Out

This morning when I walked into the office to check my mail, I had an envelope in my box that said



 By the way, multiple exclamation points are one of my pet peeves. But I digress.

 The words were typed by a label-maker, which I found strange, but I opened up the letter. As I started to read, the words hit me hard in the solar plexus and I found myself wanting to sit down and throw up at the same time.

 The letter was from a student and typed. It started out complimentary, talking about how I was this student's favorite teacher, how my class was their favorite of the day, and how I was someone this student looked up to.

 Then, it spent several paragraphs explaining how, lately, it seemed to him or her that I was becoming impatient with students, making them feel stupid, and becoming angry when students asked for help. The student explained that he or she no longer enjoyed my class or felt that he or she could ask for help any more. The letter was not signed.

 It pains me beyond measure to know that a student feels this way. I had been noticing lately that I had been more tired and irritable with students, especially after school. But it's one thing to see this in yourself and vow to change; another thing entirely to have it called out by a student.

 My first response was to be miserable. I felt like a horrible teacher and person. I internalized every word. I wanted to quit teaching because I was obviously so awful at it. How could I let this happen? How could I make a student (or as the author put it, several of them, actually) feel so poorly?

 I struggled with this for the rest of the day. It made my mind spin and I battled to make it through the day without spiraling into an overwhelming depression.

 This is one of my greatest weaknesses. I have a hard time with keeping perspective, I internalize people's opinions, and I see my own flaws disproportionately to the good things that I do. It took me most of an evening cuddling with a cute puppy and a 12 mile run to work it out, but I finally arrived at an answer to my questions.

 How could I let this happen? How could I make a student feel so poorly?

 Because I'm human. I make mistakes. Yes, I have been more impatient than normal lately, especially late in the day. I noticed it in myself, so why should I be so surprised that students have noticed too? I'm exhausted and overwhelmed because I bust my butt helping students the best I can all day long. And while this is understandable, it needs to be addressed.

 This doesn't define who I am as a teacher. What defines me as a teacher is how I respond to this. 

And I have decided that I will respond by improving myself. I will make changes that set me up for success in this area.

 First, I will establish more defined office hours after school for my students. One of the reasons I think I was becoming so irritable was because of the steady stream of students coming into my room after school at seemingly random times. Immediately after the dismissal bell rang, students were trickling into my room for extra help, a re-assessment, or to make up a lab. Any time this happened, I found myself stressing out about how to help them all at once. I wouldn't be able to get anything else done (like grading assessments, setting up labs, or planning for future lessons), which caused me significant anxiety. It was also causing me to leave school much later than I wanted to, be pressed for time in my Ironman training, and worry about picking up my kids on time from daycare. I think if I create established times for my students to be in my classroom for these needs, I will be more likely to be able to always interact with them positively . That time is specifically carved out for them, and no other reason. Likewise, I will have designated times for taking care of the other things I need to get done without students in my room.

 Second, I am going to create a form for students to fill out when they need help or when they are going to re-assess. This idea came from Mr. Abud's website, who has students fill out a Google Form before being allowed to re-assess anything. I love this idea, because it builds in some student accountability for their own learning. It asks students to reflect upon what they already know and what they have already done to help themselves before coming to the teacher for extra help and/or re-assessment. Part of my frustration was with students coming in for help, saying, "I don't get any of it," and with students who would approach a re-assessment through a "winging it" mentality. I think this will generate authentic reflection and responsibility in my students and help alleviate the irritation that was associated with these activities.

So, there you go.  I feel like I'm making myself pretty vulnerable here, but I needed to get it down in words and out of my system.

This letter will help me get better.  I need to remember that.

But now, it's going in the shredder -- and I'm getting to work.

Out of My League

My name is Alaina Sharp and I am a high school chemistry teacher. I don’t really belong in the ELA world. I couldn’t tell you the difference between alliteration and allusion without looking it up on Google, and I couldn’t fathom diagramming a sentence.

 But, I do have one very important thing in common with ELA teachers: I love to read and I desire to share this love of reading with my students.

 As I watch my students in class and talk with them, I get the funny feeling like they aren’t reading anything at all. For the most part, they hate their assigned books in English class (and use Spark Notes to get by) and don’t read for pleasure.

I feel that reading has made a huge difference in my life. It has made me more creative and eloquent, more experienced and imaginative, more empathetic and observant. I think it would be a disservice for me not to pass these opportunities for growth to my students.

 As a science teacher, I have to get a little creative in order to address this. Our school offers a forty-five minute per week session on Wednesdays called “Power Play”. During this time, students are offered remediation in classes they are currently struggling in. Those who do not need remediation are offered an enrichment session.

 This time I’m offering one of these sessions called, “Reading Doesn’t Have to Be Horrible! Come READ with me!” To my delight, a full classroom’s worth of students signed up for the session, but now I’m stumped. After looking at the names of the students who signed up, it’s apparent that many of them are already students who love to read and wanted the time during the day to be able to do that. I’m not sure how many non-readers I managed to snag on my list. What do I do with these students during this time? I am totally out of the realm of my own expertise and I could use your help.

 One option I thought of was to bring a huge stack of books to the session and spend the first 20 minutes giving a short “book talk” about 5-7 of these books. For the remaining time, I could have students choose a book that looked interesting and just read. If they like it, they can take it with them for the rest of the week. If they don’t like it, they can try another one.

 Am I way off base here? What else can I do or should I do? I want to do right by these kids, so any and all advice would be greatly appreciated.