Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Lessons from the one that leaves first...

It's never easy losing a student.  It's not even really easy when it's the hardest student in the class.  But it's rarely the most difficult child that leaves. 
I have notice that one of my students is moving and tomorrow is his last day.  I've known for a couple of weeks, but to have the date of departure looming so close is disheartening.
This child is a great kid.  Socially, the kids respect and look up to him and that is a good thing because he is a great role model. Academically, he's right where he needs to be.  Asks all the right questions, is not afraid to try and is just an all around great kid. 
As much as I want my class size to go down I hate losing students to accomplish that. 
I was telling my husband that the student was leaving and he asked who.  When I told him the first name, my husband noted that I had never spoken about that child at home.  My quick reply was that of course I hadn't because this kid was an easy kid who didn't test my patience. And that stopped me cold.
How terrible is that? To not be able to spend time reflecting and improving my teaching with the kids that are not challenging me.  When I come home and talk about my day it's very cathartic and leads to a reflection that improves my teaching.  So, with the class size I have this year and the number of students with intense behaviors, I have been so focused on the 15 that are driving me insane that I fear I am not giving enough to the kids who come in and do what they need.
How much better of a teacher would I be if I reflected on my work with the kids that were at grade level.  Isn't that where my teaching should be focused--my expectations should be the same for all the kids.  If I spend so much time reflecting on students who need more to produce less, am I also lowering my expectations for the others. 
How unfair! How biased! How do I fix it? 
As this student leaves my classroom this week I have so many hopes for his next school experience: a teacher that focuses on him as well as his peers, a class size that allows him to experience relationship, and high expectations from all the adults in his life so that he can rise to them. And for the students who remain.  I have the same hopes--and the challenge is on me to create that experience for them.

Tea for all and all for tea

It's been an interesting year.  Each day brings new learning--and not just for the students.  It's a constant balance of ying/yang.  When I feel we are settling into routine and I get comfortable, the routine shatters. And I am becoming comfortable in that. 
I find myself torn between wanting my students to conform and wanting my students to be themselves.  I recently have been focusing my thinking around two thoughts:
"We must not be content to allow children to color outside the lines, we must strive to teach them to."
"A society without norms is chaos"
So how can I teach these children that it is both okay to not conform and at the same time there are certain rules to living among a group?
When a student asks me if something is okay to do (and frankly, I am just happy they know to ask!) I am working to stop my immediate answer of yes or no.  Rather, I try to step back to think what it is that they are truly asking and whether or not it is my right/responsibility to answer for them.
Out of this flux has come an interesting new "norm" in my classroom: travel mugs.  They adorn at least 5 desks now.  And hanging out of each mug is a string with a tea label attached. 
It started one day when a child asked if they could have something to drink at their desk.  Instead of saying yes or no, I simply replied it had to be healthy and in a closed container.  A fine balance of societal norms and free will.
I expected water bottles.  I even expected Gatorade (kids seem to think that is the "healthiest" drink in the world.
Then the first travel mug showed up.  And the next.  And then the request for hot water came.  Sadly, we found out that the kids are not allowed to partake of the filtered hot water tap that staff use.  But the travel mugs remained, and I noticed that the same tea label hangs from the mug each day.  I never see the kids drink from them, I assume they are awaiting hot water.  Others have been filled with coffee, but these, too, remain untouched.
I find it interesting that the kids are striving to be individuals by drinking that which I drink.  And I wonder if there are other things I do subconsciously that the kids are also emulating.  I need to be cautious and thoughtful in all I do. 
I also need to support their individuality.  I need to buy an electric tea kettle so that the kids can partake of their tea--and maybe find out they don't like it at all!
The weather has turned and warm liquids in the classroom seem a good thing.  A colleague suggested a crock pot for cider. I am thinking that a new norm we can all agree on might just be having warm tea/cocoa/cider available for all to choose their favorite.
I only really know one thing for sure and that is simply, I will never know if I have taught a child to color outside the lines, but I hope to always know that I taught kids how to live a true life--true to themselves while also being true to the people around them.