Saturday, October 23, 2010

Falling and Failing but not Dying

"You will still have an F on your report card, but you won't have failed at life."

This is a bit of advice I gave to a student when we was upset about his grade for the first 6 weeks. Now, he knew that the reason he failed was because he chose not to do a big project we had done. I talked to him about how sometimes we fail, but we have to learn from our mistakes and pull ourselves up from it. I ended with that last sentence, which probably sounded pretty corny but at least it was from the heart.

I think about how I have learned to internalize this advice. There have been so many times this year where I have felt overwhelmed, fallen flat on my face, and just bombed some lessons. As all first year teachers usually do, I stress out and stay up late trying to overcome whatever it is I need to beat. I try to get as much done as possible. Unlike many first year teachers (and many people in general), once the deadline is passed and I still don't have all of my midterm grades in (or the meeting started and I haven't analyzed my data or whatever it was I was supposed to do) I let go of the stress. I take a note of what it was I failed at and I start thinking of ways to overcome it next time. How can I change my actions so that this does not happen again?

You see, reflection is the key to any positive change. Once an event has passed, their is no going back to change it. You cannot turn back time to fix what has already been done. All you can do is look toward changing the future. I consider myself a pretty optimistic person and I am sure that that outlook helps me to be able to leave the stress behind. I figure, everything happens for a reason, even if that reason is just so you learn something.

So when you feel like you're falling, or you realize you've failed, just get up and brush it off. You're still alive and have plenty of time to change everything for the better.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Clap Once if You Can Hear Me - Using camp techniques in the classroom

Next week is the end of our first grading period, so I feel like I should take some time to reflect:

Camp in the Classroom

My classroom philosophy is to have a warm environment where students feel safe and welcome. I want there to be rules, but I also want it to be fun. Through my many years as a camper - looking up to women who gave me boundaries, consequences and guidance at the same time - I learned what attributes I admired and respected from those in charge. Through my years as camp staff, I became very aware of what techniques gain respect and how adolescents respond in different situations.

The first time I realized I was using camp philosophy in the classroom was during my second lunch duty of the year. (Of course, it could be a combination of camp and my years in education classes - or my ability to think rationally in most situations - that led me to where I am now.) There were a group of students who were consistently being unruly. As we dismissed the rest of the students, I held back this group to have a discussion with them. Even though I am a new teacher, I do understand how to relate to this age group and was doing just a fine job of discussing their behavior. I explained what my expectations where, named the behaviors that I did not think were meeting the expectations, and was about to discuss what consequences would come for not meeting these expectations. At that moment, another teacher stepped up and started to belittle these students, calling them babies and treating them as such. When I replayed the incident in my mind, I tried to think as a student in this situation would have. Which teacher would I respect more? Which would I not want to listen to in the future? Whether because of camp or college, I know that if we treat them as young adults, giving them rules and consequences based on expectations, then they will be more apt to live up to be the people we hope they will become. They may not like the rules we impose, but they will eventually understand why they are in place. If, instead, we treat them like children, that is how they will act.

Also from camp, I know the value of giving positive directions instead of negative ones. If you tell a child "don't run," then that child hears the last word, "run," and does not correct the behavior. If you ask the child to "please walk" then she will hear the word "walk" and know what is expected. Similarly, I try not to ask my students to stop talking or to yell out answers. I ask my students to "please be quiet" and I say "thank you for raising your hand." They are beginning to catch on. I will know more by the end of the year, but it is my hope that they will respond more positively to these types of requests. Students are children after all. They will talk, they will be out of control, they will play with manipulatives instead of listening to the answers to homework. It is my goal to be patient. So, when I need to get their attention, I do not yell at them to be quiet, flicker the lights or slam the door. Instead, I say in a quiet voice, "clap once if you can hear me."