Thursday, September 25, 2014

Teaching would be easier if it wasn't for the students

Here's what happened the other day.

My grade 8 students were exiting our classroom from social studies, as my grade 6 students began to enter.

I was getting myself focused on teaching a lesson on sentence writing, with an emphasis on using commas. I was thinking about how I could teach my students to write with a variety of sentence lengths so that their writing might flow for the reader.

I was trying to figure out how I was going to teach them how to use independent and dependent clauses to make short, medium and long sentences without boring them to death by talking about independent and dependent clauses.

I was proud that I had completely abstained from using the school's photocopier until the third week of school for a one-page handout on sentence writing.

But before half the class could even arrive, Kevin and Thomas were engaged in yet another one of their daily disagreements. Despite the obvious that they want to be friends, and that they need each other to get through the day, Kevin and Thomas's lagging social skills continue to set each other at odds.

Kevin was pissed right off and wouldn't even come in the classroom. He was going home.

Thomas came in but he was both denying and avoiding Kevin's accusations over a missing Rubik's Cube.

I immediately caught myself being completely annoyed by this spat.

I don't have time for this!

I had a lesson on sentences to teach! I didn't have time to worry about some stupid Rubik's Cube that may or may not have been stolen!

Sometimes it's tempting to think about how much easier teaching would be if it wasn't for the students -- Sometimes it's challenging to remember that there is no teaching without the students.

I had to remind myself that for every problem that occurs in school, there are actually two problems -- a teacher's problem and a student's problem and rarely are they ever the same.

I had to remind myself that I am the adult and that if I wanted Kevin to care about my problem -- teaching and learning sentences -- then I had to first show Kevin that I cared about his problem -- the missing Rubik's Cube.

I had to remind myself that I teach children first and curriculum second. Yes, sentences are critically important for teachers to teach and children to learn, but teaching children how to problem solve first may be our only chance of getting to academics like sentences.

So I walked into the hallway and asked Kevin, "What's up?"

He told me about his missing Rubik's Cube, and that he was certain Thomas had it in his locker.

I looked Kevin in the eye and said, "Kevin, I promise you that I will help you solve this problem and find your Rubik's Cube."

He looked at me and said, "Right now?"

I said, "No. Not right now. Right now I need to teach you about sentences and you need to learn about sentences -- but at the end of class, I promise that we will make time to find your Rubik's Cube. Can we do that?"

I could tell that Kevin really wanted to find it now, but he looked at me and reluctantly said OK.

Kevin and Thomas sat down and learned about sentences while I taught. With a few minutes left in class, I talked with Thomas about the Rubik's Cube. It didn't take long to discover that it was in his locker.

Kevin had his Rubik's Cube back.

The next day, I sat with the two boys in the hallway and debriefed this situation. Rather than punish Thomas for doing wrong, I worked with him and Kevin through a conversation about why he shouldn't steal. Thomas came to the conclusion that he shouldn't steal from Kevin, because he wanted to be Kevin's friend.

Now they are writing stories and learning to write sentences.

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