Posts Tagged ‘mentor’

Bad words

October 15, 2014 Leave a comment

I was fascinated today by what words V clearly thought were inappropriate and which ones he didn’t think twice about.

Two examples:

I told him my grandmother died since I saw him last week. He responded, “Damn, damn, damn. I KNEW you were going to say that! Was she sick?”

He described a pro wrestling fight he’d seen. “It’s in the…sorry…[whispers] Hell in a Cell. [blushing] I’m sorry! That’s the name of it!”

Who knows how kids pick up their ideas of what’s acceptable language and what’s not?

Categories: Relationships Tags: , ,

What a difference a week makes

September 23, 2014 Leave a comment

Last week in my mentoring visit we had to coax V to play Crazy 8s with us and then I had to give him a LOT of support as we played (including peeking at his cards so I could double-check his moves). This week it was just me and V in the library, and instead of reading a biography – his hands-down favorite activity – he asked if I brought Crazy 8s and if we could play. I dealt the cards, we played…and it went really smoothly. I never had to check his hand, he handled it gracefully when he almost won but then I changed the color, and he handled it gracefully many turns later when I ended up winning.

Not only have we never played Crazy 8s so well, we’ve never played any game so well. It was like he grew a whole year in just the last week – suddenly able to remember and follow the rules, make strategic choices, and be a good sport. I have no idea what caused the big change, but I’m incredibly proud of him.

Crazy 8s

September 16, 2014 Leave a comment

Over the course of my last year of mentoring, another of my former students slowly wormed her way into our sessions. She started by lobbying – hard – for one, just one, meeting in December. I talked with her teacher and with my original student and finally agreed. Every week after that she’d see me in the lobby and ask “can I come with you today?” until I finally agreed to a second session, then a third…and before I knew it she was joining us every other week. It worked out better than I expected. She’s gregarious and highly social, but she’s never seemed to mind much how “off” my other student is. She lets him be him while still (mostly) politely standing her ground if he’s truly out of bounds socially.

Last week, my first week back this school year, she started on the lobbying again as soon as she saw me. I said that since her teacher had no idea I was even there, we’d have to wait until this week, at least, so I could see if it was okay.

This week, having gotten permission from both her teacher and my other student, I was looking forward to telling her that she could join us. Spying me in the lobby she made a beeline for me: “Can I come with you today?” Then, without even waiting for my response, she continued, “But you said you’d talk to my teacher! You said–”

I held up my hand to cut her off. “Whoa! Want to let me talk? I was about to say that I talked to your teacher and you can come with us today.”

She had the good grace to smile sheepishly.

We spent a lot of the time together playing Crazy 8s with the $1 deck I got at Target. She was awesome at it – beat me multiple times, using actual strategy. She kept protesting that I wasn’t supposed to look at the other student’s cards though, and I had to keep shushing her because there’s no way he could play the game without the support I can give him from peeking. I like that having her with us means that he’s willing to try the game – when he played just with me last year he threw the cards down in frustration and said the game was stupid, but if she and I are playing, he wants to give it a try.

So I’ll be taking her every other week this year. I give her credit – she’s relentless, sure, but it gets her what she wants and needs, and it’s been a positive thing for all of us in the end.

Categories: Relationships, Teaching Tags: , ,

Bulletproof logic

October 22, 2013 Leave a comment

The nine-year-old I work with explained to me today why he knows Santa Claus is real:

“I believe in Santa Claus. My mom and dad don’t believe in Santa Claus though. My mom says that when I go to sleep and wake up and there are presents, she leaves the presents. But that’s not possible! How can a mom and dad get presents in the middle of the night? They can’t go to the stores in the middle of the night. The stores are even closed! It doesn’t make sense. So I know Santa must leave the presents.”

The benefit of confidence (and experience)

January 12, 2012 Leave a comment

Part of the reason I love trapeze is because the teachers there are really, really good at teaching.  They provide constant, individual feedback that is almost always at the student’s exact developmental level.  While almost all the teachers are strong, a handful stand out from the crowd.  I’ve realized that the classes where I really move my skills forward and try new, unexpected things are the classes with the most experienced, confident teachers.  They’re the ones who ask, “have you done [skill] yet?  No?  Okay, you’re going to learn that right now.”  Or, like tonight, they see a skill I’ve been working on for months and say, “the reason that’s so hard is because your flying is more advanced than that skill.  I’m going to teach you the harder way, you’ll do it next time up, and it’s going to feel easier.”

Making a call like that takes confidence that you know what you’re doing and have the right to do it.  Dozens of instructors have helped me with this skill, but tonight’s teacher was the only one to say “wait, why are you doing that at all?”

I think about how this trapeze experience applies to my own teaching.  One of the big changes this year is the confidence I have in moving my students forward.  Last year I didn’t really know what was coming, and didn’t know what students should look like to get there, so I kind of tip-toed everyone forward, uncertain.  This year I know where we all need to be and I’m often dragging my kids forward, more confident now that I know what they should be doing.  Having experience lets me do more than coach them where they are – like the best of my trapeze instructors, I’m learning to question why we’re there, and make a confident decision about where we should be instead.


January 11, 2012 1 comment

Last year was hard. My boss didn’t like most of what I did in the classroom and let me know it all year.  If one of my six-year-olds was (gasp!) wiggling on the carpet, she’d write in her notes that the class was off-task and not learning.  This time last year, we had an hour-long meeting to explain that I might not be recommended for reappointment that spring.

Flash forward. I have a new evaluator who thinks deeply about teachers’ practices.  We’ve talked informally about my class throughout the year, we are in 2 hours a week of team meetings together, and she’s been in to observe a few times. We had a 15 minute mid-year meeting today in which she said that I am exceeding expectations on 7 of the 23 professional standards and she’s recommending me for reappointment.  She explained that she’d thought a lot about the observations she’d done in my classroom and even talked with my mentor to think through her evaluation of it.  She said that her first impression was that the kids were behaving rather “loosely” with me (yet would sit up ramrod straight when she looked at them), and that threw her off a little.  But then when she looked more closely, she saw that I was constantly checking for understanding, pushing kids to explain their thinking, and providing enough freedom for the “hard to fit in” kids in my class to feel comfortable and find success.  She said, essentially, that my management style is not her own, but that if it works for me, she’s fine with it, because she can see that it’s working for the kids.

Forgive me a flowery moment: this is like a balm to my soul.

I’ve spent the last year and half filled with fear, doubt, and a sense of incompetence because my classroom simply doesn’t look like the other classrooms.  I know my kids are learning, but when other people see or hear our room, I feel judged – that I can’t control them, that I don’t know how to keep them in line.  And the truth is, I don’t – not in the way other teachers do.  I cannot for the life of me get a class full of six-year-olds to line up straight and silent (though I’ve seen it done).  But I kind of don’t care about that, which is probably why I can’t do it.  It’s just not a battle I feel like waging when there are so many other things that matter more to me.  Honestly, the one major non-academic battle I’ve fought this year is to have students stop touching the levers on my chair.  Drove me nuts.  They stopped.  I’m sure if I really, truly cared I would figure out how to have a quieter, less wiggly class.  But I love the roly-poly, puppy nature of six-year-olds.  I love their random conversations and off-topic explorations.  I let them conspire with a buddy sometimes instead of reading because I want to see what they’ll come up with.  I watch them change the rules of the math games and invent totally new activities, then I talk with them about what they’ve figured out.  Not all of the freedom I give them is productive, and I definitely feel sometimes like my kids are less “polished” than many of the other teachers’, but they’re learning to think, to explore, to test boundaries.

For the last year, I’ve been taught to think of myself as a failed classroom manager and therefore a failure as a teacher.  Today’s evaluation reminds me that while I may fail to look like everyone else, I’m succeeding at putting my teaching philosophy into practice.  As I read what I’ve just written about my classroom it sounds exactly like the application essay I wrote about teaching and learning to get hired for this job.  My goal for the rest of this year is to approach each day with a sense of positive purpose for what I’m choosing to do in my classroom and let go of the needless guilt and worry about how things might appear.  If I’m happy, my kids are happy, and they’re learning, that works for me.

Mixed blessings

December 3, 2011 Leave a comment

Last year’s student H and I had a very close relationship.  She came to the country knowing almost no English but was determined to control every aspect of her day through sheer force of will.  She demanded a great deal of my energy and focus, but she repaid it with enormous progress and affection.  I worried a lot about sending her on to second grade – not because she might struggle academically, but because as much as I love her, she’s an easy child to get fed up with.  I think she ended up with the most patient of the second grade teachers, but she’s independent enough now that she doesn’t need to have the same incredibly focused relationship with her teacher anymore.  In addition, the two students she most enjoyed moved over the summer, and I think that remarkable force of will of hers has made it hard to make new friends.  As a result, she’s feeling a little lonely this year.  She stops by my room each day after school to talk, and is usually in a decent mood, but last Monday she was very down.  “I have bad day.  I very sad, but I no can talk about it.  My dad waiting, I tell you tomorrow.”  I called out after her to write me a note that night to tell me about it.  This is what I got the next day:

On one hand, this letter breaks my heart.  I hate that she ever feels sad, and I don’t want her to be wishing for the past.  On the other hand, I know she’s a strong, resilient child and that this will be a temporary low.  And I read her letter, written in controlled handwriting, regular letter format, and (mostly) conventional spelling, and I can’t help but celebrate.  Sixteen months ago she didn’t know a single English letter.  Now look at what she’s able to do.  She is, truly, a remarkable child, and while I’m sad that she’s sad right now, I feel confident that she’s going to take the world by storm.

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