Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Being a reflective teacher.

Surprise - not a baby/pregnant-or-not related blog! I am, of course, still pregnant, and anxiously awaiting a 6 week ultrasound on Friday… My nerves are indescribable and my fear is great. I feel like a zombie most days, and tragically, my major food aversions have to do with anything pumpkin smelling, and it’s full on pumpkin spice season.
I’m in the middle of midterms for grade school and going nuts. I had to complete a self-assessment on my professional dispositions, and I got to reflecting and realized some things have changed in my 6 years as a teacher.

Five Things I Stopped Fighting as a Teacher
1. Bathroom Policies
I used to have an intense system for bathroom trips. I offered 3 emergency passes per semester. If a student didn’t have a pass left, he or she did not go. I mean, it was “I guess you’ll wet your pants or get a doctor’s note” serious. Then, I ran into the students losing passes or having them stolen, so I tried marking the three semesterly trips in their planners, and then I had those getting lost or stolen, so I kept the trips recorded on my behavior clip board. In schools where I used to work, the kids were rough. Some on probation themselves, many with incarcerated parents, the vast majority lived in poverty - the white students in the trailer park where doors were left open leading into abysmally dark single-wides on cinderblocks - and the black students lived in the apartment complex littered with trash, bustling with people outside in lawn chairs, where drug busts and police tape were commonplace. Those students, all of them, needed, or more so, craved, structure and stability, so it was the right thing to do. But sometimes I wonder if I just stressed myself out more in an already tense situation. Now I let students go when they need to, but one at a time, and I have build a class culture where you don’t want to miss what we are doing - leaving the room eats up time you need. Could I have created that culture in my previous environment?
2. Pencils and Materials
I can’t believe people actually punish students for not having their materials. I can’t believe I used to do this. If a student needs a pencil, give him one and expect him to take care of it and use it up until it’s a nub, and then give him another. And if he doesn’t take care of it and takes advantage of you, meet with the parents or take away a recess or fun time until he starts taking care of it. But give the child what he needs.
3. Off-Topic Conversations
I have stopped being the dictator. If we get off topic, I use it as a teachable moment and then redirect us back. I don’t yell. Kids tell me I’m different like that. Why do we yell at kids when they are not doing what we want? Shouldn’t we master our craft enough to have engagement so high they want to talk about what we want them to talk about? We should facilitate and guide, not lord over them. I am tired of teachers with Short White Man syndrome.
4. Enforcing Late Work Policies
I credit my husband for this change in me. I used to adhere strictly to a late work policy outlined in a boring looking syllabus students would immediately lose. Three days after the due date? The zero stands. I find myself much more of the ‘hunt-you-down-and-make-you-do-it-now’ variety of teachers. And I always accept work now, even if it is laughably, atrociously late. Because I don’t like failure! I want to see mastery! Isn’t that what we’re about!?
5. Cell Phones Policies
I get fired up about this one. I work at a school where cell phones are off and in the lockers, not on the student. Yet teachers complain that they don’t have access to laptops or ipads or computer labs for certain types of learning projects, etc, ignoring the fact that the majority of students have an internet-ready device that can log on to our school wifi and access the same resources and sites you could do in the lab. I have gone rogue and I allow students to bring phones to class, with the expectation that they are off and/or away until I explicitly say it is okay to use them. So for the kid without internet at home? He snaps a picture of the board or assignment and saves it on his phone. I airdrop scanned pdfs of assignments to iPhone users. We use apps like Quizlet for homework. Cell phones are learning tools, and if you haven’t figured that out yet, it’s time for some professional development to get you out of the dinosaur age. Textbooks are dead. Cell phones are 21st century skills - they are relevant and engaging- and they are practical. 
I am told I am a hippie. I hear I am “different.” I don’t think my teaching is that weird, unless you consider rigor, relationships, and relevance weird. The more work I do for grad school, the more I learn about myself as a teacher and while I am not yet a master-teacher, I do hope that one day when my years of experience affords me that title, that I will actually live up to it by adapting and growing, and not sticking with what I have always done because I have always done it.

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