All of us have had major classroom disruptions that try our patience and push our limits. These incidents can threaten our sense of control and generate fear of looking weak to other students. We fear that other students might do the same thing if we don't take a strong stance. Couple these feelings with the possibility of taking the disruption personally, and we have a recipe for disaster. It's important that we divide our response into two parts:
Over the past few weeks, I have learned deeply. My students were paramount teachers as I was privileged to share a part of their interior worlds, their "private logic" that is a culmination of accumulated beliefs, experiences, values, thoughts and feelings. This inner world is often kept tucked away unless an environment is created that allows for feelings of safety and an untainted sense of belonging. When any child or adult enters into a space that accepts, inspires and affirms their "ever-changing personhood," we have finally found the key that unlocks the door to extravagant learning! What is that key? That golden key is connection, nothing more.
The hardest job in America? Being a teacher, so said Sargent Shriver on October 13, 1972, in a speech given as part of his vice presidential campaign with George McGovern. Forty-two years after this remarkable speech, his words bear sharing.
Blogger's note: This post focuses on the importance of integrating collaboration into classroom practice. In my next post, I'll talk about strategies for successful facilitation of collaborative work.
A Learned Skill
Sharing my rough writing with others is a miserable experience. I know that outside input is a crucial part of revision, yet I squirm uncomfortably as those I trust make comments and probe with questions. Inevitably, I begin to feel resentment grow as I am forced to reevaluate passages that I thought were clear.
If collaboration feels this challenging for me with those whom I trust and respect, it must feel even harder for my students because:
I often make a point of dividing them into heterogeneous groups that include students with different skill levels.
The projects I assign require agreement and coordination between all the members of a group.
I expect the final products to be polished and ready for a wider audience.
As I uttered the last syllable of the searing Holocaust passage in Night by Elie Wiesel, where Yuliek plays his violin amidst a sea of dead and dying men, and Beethoven's concerto concluded on my laptop, a sigh sounded from one of my sophomores. Basie was a tiny figure shrouded in a hoodie, sleeves pulled over his minuscule hands. He never said much before, but now pushed his hoodie slightly off his eyes and mused about how art infuses beauty into even the most depraved situations.
Editor's note:Mary MartinezSmith, an eighth grader at Axtell Park Middle School in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, co-authored this post.
Not very many people really know what it's like to do something that affects not only hundreds, but thousands. Some would say those with big dreams, simply put, are just dreamers. Others might say teenagers who dream big are trying to do something beyond their power. Many people would like to say they not only had that dream, but they accomplished it. Yet few actually can. We, Mary MartinezSmith and Damian Marlow, are proud to say we are two of those few people. The catch? We did it just by putting sticky notes with positive messages on every locker in our school.
I'm going to close my grade book now. I'm taking it to the top of a snowy hill. I'll sit upon it and go sliding down the hill. It's the only good use for that book, now that December is here.
Christmas is coming, and my students can't think about schoolwork. They're too busy wiggling in their seats, tapping out Christmas carols with their toes, giving each other reindeer names, and Googling this year's "Santa's Bad List."
As we near the one-year anniversary of the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, my first thoughts are of that awful day -- how I felt sick to my stomach learning about the tragedy and, as a teacher, how I worried. These could be my students; this could be me. What would I have done? What would I have told my students to do? Would they have been prepared? My second thoughts are of today -- what have we done to make schools safer? What I have I done as a teacher to make my school and my students safer?
I had been trying to start class for several minutes. Our normal post-weekend check-in had failed. Instead of hearing updates from each other, students were having side conversations about the school dance. Once I regained everyone's attention, two girls walked in late and the whole class stopped to watch as they gave each other a consoling hug before they moved toward their seats.
I was losing patience. This was not the strong start I had envisioned for the first in-class workday of our project. "Who is ready to share the main question for their project?" I asked in an attempt to refocus everyone and manage the energy emanating from 33 frenetic 15- and 16-year-olds.