(If you haven’t read my original post, That Kid, please take a moment to do so.)
A week ago the school year ended. It was a tough one for a variety of reasons. I was glad to see it end, but it also meant I would no longer have THAT KID in my class. He had been there in one way or another for the last three years. When it came time to culminate and end their sixth grade year, I cried. Not because I would miss him, although I will greatly, but because I was so proud of how far he had come.
“Charlie” ended up being an integral part of our Student Tech Squad. I relied on him for any problem the other students (and usually I) couldn’t fix. The other kids recognized his worth in more than just tech, and he became pretty popular with many of his classmates. (Not too bad for the kid that used to be labeled a bully and was everyone’s scapegoat!).
As I spoke to him and his family after the ceremony (my eyes full of the same tears I saw reflected in his mother), I was struck with the connection we had made. I reflected on our not-so-great beginnings together and it made all of us laugh. I shared how proud I was of his accomplishments and how I hoped he would continue to rely on his strengths as he moved to the middle school. His grandmother credited me as a good teacher and that was what had made a difference. I think it was more than that.
When students come into your lives (because they are never just “in your class”), we try to find a way to make connections to relate to what they are going through so that the curriculum can be made more personal and understandable. This is a lofty goal that is often difficult to achieve with every student in your class. That doesn’t mean we don’t keep trying. It’s because of these connections that the students are able to learn from us. Whether you reach one student for just one day or make a lasting one (like I believe I have with THAT KID), it’s these connections that make the difficult days or years worth it for both you and the kids.
Charlie may no longer be in my class, but he will be one I will remember always. Hopefully I have made a positive lasting impression on him as well.
For the last several years I have helped various teachers around our campus, district and state with changing their teaching through conferences, Twitter and various conversations (and possibly this blog). This year I did decided I wanted to do it more formally and became an Induction (the program our state requires for first and second year teachers) Mentor for a teacher just starting her career. It has been an interesting journey for few reasons.
1. While I reflect when I write this blog or participate in Twitter chats, being a mentor forced me to really look at ALL of my practices, not just the big stuff. I love sharing all the exciting things we´re doing in the classroom and at our school, but what about those little things that matter for the good or bad. I had to look at the everyday occurrences to help explain them to my candidate. We are told we should reflect on what we do, but how often do we really do it. Mentoring someone else helped me see the importance of this.
2. I had to remember what it was like to begin my career. I have a very strong beginning teacher to mentor. She does well with classroom management and intuitively understands the importance of relationships with her students. (This was a relief to me as I had no idea what I was getting into when I decided to try this.) However, I had forgotten how overwhelming it can be to figure out how to teach the curriculum with a class full of eager students (mostly) ready to learn from you! Apparently I had really forgotten this.
The other night we had our last official meeting for the year, which was all about reflecting. As we were getting ready to leave, she shared with me that I had scared her a little when we first met. If you´ve read my blog, you know how I am all about doing things differently and not depending on the textbook to teach the students. Well, maybe I shared that a little too much with her. I wanted her to think outside the box. Step away from the textbook and do what best suits her students. I was essentially trying to take away her lifeline. I forgot what it meant to not have a clue what you are supposed to be doing. How that textbook might be the only thing that reminds you what you are supposed to be teaching. It is only through experience that you feel confident enough to create new lessons that benefit everyone.
3. It’s important to listen. When you start the mentoring process there is a lot of looking for advice. New teachers have a lot of questions. The trick is learning when to answer, when to collaborate and when to just listen. Just like in the classrooms, the one who does the most talking is also the one that does the most learning. There were times I stepped in and needed to give specific information or guidance. These were rare and usually to ease her stress about how much of the book to get through before state testing. There were several times where we could collaborate.Her ideas would spark my own and both of our classes were better for it. However, most of the time, I just needed to listen. In order for her to reflect and get better, she needed to talk through her experiences. My role was to ask a few questions to get deeper reflection. This was hard for both of us in the beginning. I think we got the hang of it by the end though. The good thing is we get to try again next year. We don’t usually get this chance with our students. We need to learn to listen and guide them early in the year because our time with them is limited. Students need a chance to reflect on their experiences in a variety of ways. We, as teachers, need to be their coaches and guide them through the process. This happens best when we are listening to what they have to say.
There are so many things we can learn when we share with others. Mentoring a new teacher gives us an opportunity to use our experiences to help shape a new generation of teachers and classrooms.
The last thing my candidate shared with me was that even though she felt overwhelmed and a little scared of me in the beginning, she was glad I pushed her. She realized her own strength and is now sharing what she knows with others. (That makes both of us very proud!) Did this process add more to my plate? Definitely. Was it worth every minute? Definitely.
Today I rode my bike. Living in (usually) sunny southern California I can do this almost every day. I don’t. There are a variety of reasons why, but I want to share just one. My husband used to be an avid cyclist (100 mile rides in 5 hours multiple times a month!). He decided to buy me a fancy bike about 5 years ago. Back then I’m sure he showed me how to use it properly. Apparently I didn’t listen or didn’t remember. Recently I decided I needed to get out more and wanted to start riding again. The bike was ready and so was I.
My first ride in several years was hard. I came back super sore. Why? The hills were too hard and the valleys were too fast. (Apparently my town is NOT flat, as I discovered on the first long ride!) I didn’t know know how to use the gears properly. I was doing more work than I needed to and wasn’t making the tech work for me. My friend, Cori Orlando, wrote a blog post, Walking Your Why. I completely agree with her, but as I had my epiphany today. If you don’t know the HOW, it doesn’t work. They have to work together.
As I took my ride, there were a lot of people getting out as well. Most were very friendly. A couple even gave me encouragement! (Use your toes, you can get up this hill!) There were two sets of families that really stuck with me. The first is in the picture above (taken with dad’s permission). A dad, a son, a dog. They figured out how to use what they needed to ride as a family. The dad casually rode his bike with the dog jogging along (happily I might add). The young son, probably 5 years old, rode a motorized bike that allowed him to stay at the same pace, or just a little faster, as the rest. They were making the tech work for them. On the return trip, I saw another larger family. Three kids and a couple adults rode their bikes. There were a few adults who ran. The last member of the group was on roller skates. Everyone was doing their thing and they were all staying together. They were using whatever tech worked best for each of them. If I am to get better at riding my bike, I need to get better at using the tech.
Same goes for our classrooms. Teachers and students are given various types of tech and told to go. Many of both groups are at a loss. Teachers will assign students to go on various websites to play academic games or write an essay. Students will go on YouTube or game websites and do their own thing. Some teachers have learned what else the tech can do and get their students to create. Maybe they have had more training or have figured out a few things themselves. They have figured out some of the HOW.
When our district first rolled out 1:1 Chromebooks for classrooms, we had a 2 day training on different things you can do with the computers. The training was pretty good, but for many it was overwhelming. It was a lot for someone who was new to the tech, just like my learning how to use the gears. There have been a few more trainings since then, but again like my gears, if it doesn’t happen regularly we tend to forget and rely on old habits. It’s important to offer support in HOW to use the tech on a regular basis, but it also has to be willing accepted. If my husband had forced me to ride my bike more over the years it would have been something I didn’t want. I had to be ready to learn.
I use a lot of tech in my classroom, a lot of times at the higher end of the SAMR model. However, I need to remember that everyone has their way to using it. It’s okay if teachers are beginning with having students go on those academic websites. It’s okay if students are using YouTube to learn a few things. They are figuring out their HOW.
As I finished my ride today, I realized a few things. I was doing better with the gears. I got confused a few times and went the wrong direction (higher gears when I should have been in lower) and worked more than I should have. But it was easier than the past few rides, and I am less sore. In the process I had a lot more fun (see my last blog post for more on this). I figured out HOW to make it work for me.
20+ year teacher, mother of 2 kids and 2 dogs, wife, lover of all things M&M, interested in tech in the classroom, and changing up my teaching