I follow The Daily Post, which posts daily prompts for bloggers to inspire them. Ironically, I’ve been very lax in posting lately and haven’t seen my daily posts for a while. So when I logged on today and saw the prompt, I knew I had to write.
This week’s prompt is to talk about something we’ve learned and something we’ve taught in the classroom. Last week, I completed my student teaching and this prompt has me thinking about my experience student teaching at Federal Hocking Secondary School this past semester. I have learned a great deal in my time there, mostly from my students. So, to answer this prompt, I am going to sum up my top learnings from my student teaching experience.
What I Learned:
1. Every student has more going on in his or her life than what you see in the classroom. I have seen students who are questioning their gender identity, hiding their sexual orientation, struggling with funds for basic necessities and schooling, raising siblings by themselves, facing abuse or the aftermath of abuse, living in unstable home lives, and trying to adjust to the new weight of stress from being in high school. All of my students had issues they were dealing with, whether they were at home or at school. I didn’t see all of these issues at once in the classroom, and I might have never known about them if I didn’t ask. I had several assignments where we discussed different aspects of their lives (tough decisions they had made, most important memories they had, reactions to major changes in their lives). All of their other stresses aren’t just left at the door and they come in with a clean slate. They all had more pressing issues than “what is a verb” on their minds. And this leads into my second point.
2. All students have their good days and their bad days. Even my most spirited students had days where they were quiet or irritable, and my students who didn’t like to engage often in class had their days when something sparked their attention or motivated them to work harder in class that day. That didn’t change who they were as people or as students. No matter what kind of day my students were having, I always tried to give them the same love and respect I would on any other day. In teaching and even in life with other people, the best approach someone can have is to have a clean slate in how you treat people each day. So what if that student mouthed off to you the day before? He or she should still get a “Morning! How are you?” just like every other student.
3. Flexibility is key. I have had lessons that seemed to be great until I was actually teaching them and I realized the lesson was not as great as I thought it was. One day, I even completely changed my lesson because my students wanted to continue reading a book that we would have only read an excerpt of. Teaching isn’t always about covering every single topic in the exact time you need it. Sometimes it’s about fostering students’ curiosity and love for reading or learning or knowing more. Other times you need to be flexible because materials you counted on or even people you count on don’t always pull through. Without being flexible, you will get nowhere fast in teaching.
4. Have fun with it and your students will too. My kids loved to laugh at my enthusiasm and excitement for what I was teaching. But you know what? While they were laughing, they enjoyed more of what they were doing. Did I enjoy teaching what a noun was? No. Did they enjoy knowing what a noun was? Not really. But did they learn it and did we have fun talking about it when I was excited about finding all the nouns in “What Does the Fox Say?” Yep. Will they remember what NEVER EVER EVER goes into a prepositional phrase because I would always jump up and down and stomp my foot and make them repeat it? Yep. (It’s a verb, by the way. All my students should have that in their heads by now.) The more fun you have with it, the less scary or intimidating the material is and the more they will remember it.
5. Keep calm and learn from your mistakes. No one is perfect, including teachers. You will have days where you make mistakes or don’t have all the answers or could have handled things better. You shouldn’t pretend to be any different. I honestly believe it not only builds students’ trust in you to hear you as an authority figure admit when you’re wrong, but it also shows them that it’s okay to fail and okay to admit you failed (more on this in my next post about Candy Crush). The best way to learn is through our mistakes. It’s true to real life, so why not include it in the classroom and show our students the same thing?
While I have learned a great deal in the classroom during my student teaching, I would also like to think that I have taught my students a thing or two during my time with them. If any of my students are reading this (because they somehow manage to find me no matter what measures I take to hide my social media life), there are a few things I hope I have taught them.
What I Taught:
1. Question everything. I told you from the start that I would be so proud of you and feel accomplished as a teacher if I could teach you to always question and debate. You should be able to create your own opinions and answers and base them on debate and research and facts. Become great arguers, even if it sometimes annoys your teachers or parents. It’s worth it.
2. Think what you want, but know that your words and actions have consequences. We have talked about this plenty. Just remember that you never know who is listening to your words or watching your actions. When you make something public, it leaves an impression on people and it can have a lasting impact. So when you make a fat joke to your friend and the two of you know you don’t mean it, think about the girl sitting behind you who might have been struggling with her weight all year or has been teased for it. Your words and actions have an impact. Use that impact for good!
3. Treat yourself and others with respect. Just as you deserve respect and love for being who you are, others deserve the same. So even if you think that you didn’t do well because “you’re stupid” or that someone in class is “a jerk” for what he said, treat everyone with respect. Focus on individual acts, not on the individuals. Show every individual respect, especially yourself. You deserve your love and respect.
4. Know that you are capable of far more than you think. I heard many of you tell me countless times this semester that you couldn’t do something or it was too hard or I was asking too much. And what happened? You did it. You put on plays in an hour, started your own blogs, wrote your own poetry, became YouTube stars! There was only one time this entire semester when we fell a little short, but that wasn’t because of you. It was just because we needed a bit more time and I had to head home (but carry on, my documentarians!)
5. Always be yourself and take pride in who you are. This is the most important lesson I could have taught you. I tried to lead by example, showing no fear in being my zany self. I love who I am and I love who all of you are. You can accomplish exponentially more when you love yourself and are comfortable in your own skin. It’s never easy in high school or at any other point in life. Someone will always try to pull you down. Sometimes, the only person who will cheer for you is yourself (and me from afar). You need to love yourself and be proud. There’s only one you, so be proud of who you are, keep working, and you’ll go so far.
I hope that my students learned as much from me as I learned from them. They have given me an incredible semester. I will forever be proud that I worked at Federal Hocking for three years, and I will always remember my first students and what they taught me.