Monday, May 2, 2011

The Home Stretch Reflection

For the next five minutes, you need to sit down, be quiet and read. You won’t have to read for long because in this reflection I will not be listing the new tricks I have learned to keep kids quiet or explaining how to skirt around the tough questions. Instead, I am going to share a brief synopsis of how my perspective has shifted from wanting to change lives to knowing how I will measure my success as a result of participating in my field experience with Ms. Ansliegh Answers at Saint Elmo Elementary.
Before participating at Saint Elmo, I spent a considerable amount of time in two other fourth grade classrooms at Forrest Hill Elementary and Elberta Middle School. Although these classes were different in regards to geography, race, and socioeconomics, they all led me to one question: how does respect effect the climate of the classroom? Every teacher has a different gauge for the respect that they demand and a different mode of demanding it. By comparing my own teacher workshop behavior with the students’ classroom behavior, I have learned that the only difference is that when adults talk out of turn, no one gets yelled at. This semester, I practiced giving my students the respect they deserve by rewarding them with small song and chit-chat moments, talking to them one-to-one about better decision making, and praising them publicly as an example for their classmates.
I quickly learned that respect isn’t enough, and it certainly is not lasting if it is not paired with confidence. Learning how to teach confidence was a painful process for me. I was developing elaborate lesson plans that were meant to generate new ideas, convey new knowledge, and inter-connect the subject matter. I learned quickly that complex lessons are actually thematic units, and they should be taught in digestible blocks. My pace was fast and defeating-- for them and me. Since then, I have learned a few techniques to help build confidence. Sometimes all it takes is passing out tests one page at a time, sometimes it means using three periods to cover the complex lesson, and other times it just comes down to assessing what the student struggles with and helping them to improve one aspect of their learning at a time.
My last lesson is the one I have yet to find a solution to, but believe to be the most significant. How does one teach another to love? Day in and day out, I witness racism, name-calling, as well as physical and verbal aggressions. How can we teach these kids the power behind their words and actions? How do we transform this ugliness into colorblind relationships, supportive comments, positive laughter, and pats-on-the-back? I am not expecting a perfect classroom, but I do want to know how to shape my own class experience into one that takes advantage of opportunities to learn and practice love.
These three lessons: respect, confidence, and love are the ones that I believe will ensure a strong foundation for academic excellence. This semester has been a good start, but my learning journey is by no means over. I plan to continue seeking out other model educators who share and practice the values I believe in, implementing strategies to improve my weaknesses, and remembering that mistakes are opportunities for growth. No matter how many standardized tests my students ace or how many science experiments go awry, I will measure my success at the end of each day by asking myself, Do my students know more about respect, confidence, and love for themselves and those around them than they did yesterday?