Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Do Teachers make mistakes?

All the time!  Everyday!  No, we don't do it on purpose, it comes naturally.  Mistakes take on all sorts of configurations and sneak past the teacher when we're not looking.  I still worry about some of my mistakes.

One that bothers me even to this day was Fred.  Fred was a lanky, thin kid in my fifth grade who was very quiet.  A good kid who never seem to get in the way or ever did anything wrong.  But he was a slightly below average kid that I just never reached.  Because he was so quiet I guess I would overlook him from time to time.  But I did that with all the kids, overlooking them at the moment while helping someone else.  

If I kid raised his/her hand I tried to get to them in a manner of minutes.  Sort of like the sign in the doctor's office that reads, "IF YOU'VE BEEN HERE TWENTY MINUTES, PLEASE SEE THE RECEPTIONIST".  If too many hands waved in the air I would sometimes stop the class and see what the overall problem was.  But sometimes a hand in the air was not a problem but rather a need by some student for me to see what they had done.  A bit of praise and I could move on to the next student.

So after explaining the lesson and giving them an assignment to help solidify what I had just taught, I'd walk around the classroom to see how the kids were doing.  Fred would always be studiously working at the assignment.  My mistake was not saying to him, "How are you doing?  Does this make sense to you?"  or something like that.  It was easy to pass Fred.  Strangely enough I can still remember where Fred sat much of the that year--last row on the right (facing the class) about four seats back.

Somewhat like education today, we were trying to increase the reading and arithmetic scores on our yearly tests and all of the teachers were working hard at getting kids to learn.  I felt pretty good with my class--reading was not a problem for most of my kids but I did spend more time on arithmetic then I had the year before.  Time on Task!  But if you are going to spend more class time on reading and arithmetic something has to give--some other subjects have to be slighted in time to make time for the increase work on those two main subjects.  Do you slough off on Health?  You don't want to ignore social studies with the important components of geography and history.  Spelling was definitely not on the hit list; we had to have spelling.  Besides, spelling was always the first subject in the day and it gave me a chance to collect lunch money while the kids worked in their spelling books.  

So as usual I didn't do much in art or music.  I could sometimes get the kids to sing a song while we got ready for lunch or as we walked down to the busses to go home.  But art meant that I had to get supplies ready, a lesson plan as to what we were going to do and some sort of objective that the kids could focus on.  So art got dumped.  Occasionally I get the kids to design a cover for a report that they had done but that was it.  No regrets on my part.....my kids could read well and I am positive most could do mathematics at grade level or better.  

It was April and spring was beginning to show up around the school.  The kids were tired having worked hard most of the year.  They were already looking forward to summer vacation and NO SCHOOL.  Funny, here the kids were looking forward to not having school and yet when I met parents in the stores during the summer months, they almost always said the children were looking forward to school in the fall.  And I suspect they were.

But by mid April the kids were tired.  Same old stuff.  "Get your books out"  or "Take a piece of paper and put your name on it."  Boredom.   So this was a time when I would try to do something different.  Moving desks and chairs around was a start, perhaps putting kids into groups or if necessary, breaking groups up into rows.  Sometimes moving my desk to a different corner of the room.  Definitely changing the wall bulletin board helped.  Time for a new map or pictures of places where families were planning to visit during the summer vacations.  

Finally, I designed an art lesson that allowed the kids to do some drawing--I can't remember what it was, maybe some with perspective or balance but I finally had the kids do some art work.  So I'm walking around the room, praising the kids, giving some suggestions and I get over to Fred.  Fred has out done himself.  He not only had done the assignment he had gone far beyond my expectations.  I praised him up and down.  Probably made some comments to the class although I tried not to single kids out.  If you a kid who doesn't get noticed in class and a lot of the other kids do, it hurts.  But Fred had surprised me completely.  

From that moment on I had Fred do art work for the bulletin board, for the windows facing out.  He could draw anything!  And you know what?  He started to blossom.  He'd smile a lot more and participated in class much more.  So I got perhaps the rest of April and all of May where I could get Fred to do some art work.  And his grades in all the other subjects when up.  

I remember writing on Fred's elementary school file that the next teacher would get in the fall that Fred had an amazing talent in art.  "Make sure you get him to start drawing early in the school year."  I'm not sure what happened in the middle school with Fred but I heard that he got into trouble with the Sheriff's department and his step-father sent him to Montana to live.  I hope Fred got to do some more art work.  He was good.  But I wonder what if I had had art lessons earlier in the year that would have allowed Fred to expand on his creativity.  

I've heard that Michelle Rhee, ex-head of the Washington, DC public schools does not believe in lesson plans in creativity and that students should not be coddled.  Maybe, but I will always wonder what if I had given Fred more opportunity to creative might not he have problems in the middle school.  After all these years I still worry about him.

Thanks to all those teachers who manage to get in ALL the subjects even though the pressure is on to teach reading and arithmetic to increase test scores.  Where were you when I needed you for advice.  Thanks for doing what you do.

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