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4 Things I’ve Learned from Kids over the Last Year

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November 2011

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Last March I resigned from my position as the curriculum director in my school district.  I spent the next six months finishing the grad work for my school administrator’s license.  I finished in mid-November, and right before that completion, I accepted a long-term maternity leave position in a neighboring school district.  I had been out of the classroom for three years, and missing my administration work.  I went from that third-grade position to another maternity leave (same school) teaching fifth grade, and now am the ELL teacher for grades K-2 (still same school).  While I have sixteen years in education, all of these positions were new to me.  I am thankful for being able to stay in the same school.  The teachers, support staff, and principal have all been wonderful to me.  And I am able to get paid as I wait for administrator positions to open up (money is always a plus).  I never realized how much I would learn during this “interim” time.

  1. Learning should be fun.  Okay, I did not just learn that.  The difference between now and the last time I was in the classroom was that I was a “bonus” teacher.  I had more freedoms…freedom from evaluations, freedom from test accountability, freedom from “we’ve always done it this way”.  I got to teach, and have fun.  I was in each classroom for around nine weeks, and connected with these kids as if I was there all year.  Our bonds were created through fun learning, kindness, and mutual respect.  I looked forward to seeing those students every day, and I hope they felt the same about me.  I looked forward to it, because I knew that we were going to laugh and smile together, and what is better than that?
  2. Yelling at kids is stupid.  Again – not a new discovery, but a new perspective, perhaps.  I have always been a teacher with high expectations and a pretty structured classroom.  What I have discovered these past months, however, was how often I had inner eye-rolling going on from hearing teachers yelling at students over very innocuous things.  One screamed (literally) at kids walking out to the bus to avoid a two-inch deep puddle.  She was angry, because they weren’t listening to her (I’m sorry, but after working that hard all day long, I probably would tune-out a crazy lady yelling, too).  These were fifth and sixth graders, people.  I think they are old enough to learn the consequences of stepping in a puddle.  I’m also amazed at how hateful some teachers can sound when reprimanding students from (these are all real occurrences): giggling in the hallway (we wouldn’t want happy children, would we?), touching the wall while walking to lunch, not facing forward at all times in the hall…I think you get the point.  I’m all for structure and routine.  I just think the anger/hatefulness/yelling needs to go.  How does this motivate anyone?
  3. Everyone deserves a second chance (and sometimes a third, fourth, fifth…).  I had a “difficult” fifth grader who constantly didn’t turn in work, pushed the buttons of another student who had emotional disabilities, and blurted out disrespectful comments during class.  One day I noticed that my Twisted Peppermint lotion was missing.  I made a quick inquiry to my math class (he was not in there) and one student came back to tell me privately that this boy had it out on the bus the night before.  My first inclination was to be angry.  I was frustrated that one of “my” students would steal from me.  And I had to work extra hard each day to like this boy anyway.  But, instead, I spoke with him privately.  We had to talk for a bit to work through the lies and excuses that he was (obviously) telling me.  He finally admitted to taking it because he liked how it smelled.  I admitted that I understood that reason (vs. the one that he told me that he thought it was his shoe, so picked it up to put in his bag – hard not to laugh at that one…).  I promised to not call home or tell the principal as long as he returned it the next day.  We both were able to live up to that deal, and my relationship with him only got better.  He saw someone who cared about him even after he messed up.  We all need that in life.
  4. Wonder Woman doesn’t need jewelry.  The first graders got to where superhero costumes this past Friday to celebrate being Sight Word Superheroes.  I went to pick up my ELL kiddos  (wearing jeans, a black shirt, and chunky bejeweled necklace).  I was admiring some of their costumes and told them that I dressed up like Wonder Woman.  They looked at me, trying to figure out what I was talking about.  One brave boy said, “You did?”  I said, “Yes.  This is how she dresses when she isn’t wearing her superhero outfit.”  He looked at me a bit longer, scrutinizing the outfit, and said, “Nope.  Wonder Woman wouldn’t wear that necklace.”  Loved it.  He was in his full Batman regalia when he made this declaration (dead serious, too).  We don’t need any adornments to be super teachers – we just need to love the kids, love the learning, and love the teaching.
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