Every June I reflect back on the school year, usually thinking about what improvements I might make. Things like, read more books with strong female characters to the class, fix that social studies lesson that didn't work, bring more focus to transition times. This past year was a tough teaching year for me. I had a troubled boy who decided he didn't care about anything and was going to make it through the year by being as disruptive as possible. I had a new student with many issues, including a significant lack of focus. They sucked up so much of my time and energy. I tried so many strategies - and I made progress with my new student. But I also yelled more this year than I every have -- 100% more, because I NEVER yell. But these boys would go into their own loud zone, tuning everything else out. My yelling was an attempt to penetrate their consciousness when ordinary measures had failed.
I did not like that I ended up as a yelling taskmaster - that was how I felt I was being. I felt the other students were being shortchanged. I never gave up trying to improve the situation, but at the end of the school year, I felt both exhausted and sad that I could have spent so much more time with my students who loved learning and came to school every day with eagerness.
Then I got end of the year cards (and gifts) from some of my students. "Thanks Mrs. Leff, you were an amazing teacher!" "I have learned so much from you. You are the best teacher I could have asked for." And from a parent: "It was a great, no absolutely amazing year for [her daughter]...I also thank you for creating a very warm, friendly atmosphere in your class, where all students were like family, like siblings... You were always kind, never raised your voice, thank you for that, too..."
This is post is not about how wonderful everyone thinks I am (believe me, everyone doesn't think that!), but how these kind notes helped me to see the year differently and also led me to my "ah ha" reflection on the year.
It wasn't as bad as I thought! It's true, I only yelled to get the attention of boys who were lost in their own, very loud world. We did a lot of wonderful things this year -- social studies simulations, debates, self-selected reading, hands-on math, and on and on.
The thing that I am most proud of though, is the collaborative atmosphere both my partner and I have been able to create in the 4th grade for several years now. A few years ago the whole faculty had training in Positive Discipline. One of the cornerstones of that program is weekly class meetings. We have both held these meetings for the past several years. Starting with that first year, other teachers began remarking on the great ways that our students interacted and worked together. Students can bring problems to the agenda, which are usually problems getting along with each other. We teach them how to present and discuss the problems respectfully. They are then responsible for suggesting solutions and deciding which to try. The weekly meetings are eagerly anticipated by the class. Before the end of the school year, the class is a true community. Everyone may not get along, but I have seen classes rally to protect an outlier student who was eyed with suspicion at the beginning of the year.
Positive Discipline -- it's totally worth the time!
My "ah ha" revelation came from the parent quoted above. I was told that her child was somewhat cliquey and tended to be more interested in the social aspects of school. I never saw that in her, I saw a lovely girl who seemed to be kind and interested in learning. I didn't have a plan. I thought she was a kind, thoughtful, smart girl, and she behaved that way - she is a kind, thoughtful, smart girl. But if I had taken the warnings to heart, would she have behaved differently? My ah ha! Will this always be the case with every student? No, I don't think so, but this was really powerful for me. I want to know my students, but not peg them into a role.
And now to rest and recuperate!