The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Friday, March 1, 2013

My “Students” Have Names

I am quite a few weeks into my full-time student teaching now, and if asked what has been the the hardest lesson learned thus far I would without a doubt say the realization that I am no longer staring at a class full of “hypothetical” students, in “hypothetical” desks, learning “hypothetical” content. This lesson has been both the hardest and most fulfilling to learn.

In your education classes you learn the tested and well proven theories of the “best and brightest” teachers that have ever walked the planet, and if you are like me, you begin to believe that you are one of those “best and brightest” and will be able to demonstrate it just as soon as you walk through the door of your classroom. Well, I would like to “gently encourage” you (a teacher term you will learn soon enough) to WAKE UP! I have experienced that wake-up call in the past few weeks myself. The first week of full-time teaching I pranced down the hall and into my classroom thinking because I cared SO much the students would too. I thought - I am going to come in with these great, inquisitive, fun filled lessons and the students will all fall at my feet and thank me for being the greatest student teacher to ever grace the halls. Turns out my “those students” mentality was my exact problem

I was instinctively looking at my students as a collective group. They were my “students,” my “fourth core,” my “social studies class,” or just “the kids,” but I wasn’t yet seeing them as Steven, Tiffany, Blake, or Amber. I was forgetting the importance of individuality! I was pressed to recognize that I didn’t have a class full of students, in a class full of desks; I had individual people that had individual needs, who deserved individual attention. So, I altered my game! I made it my mission to know my “people” in the classroom; to learn at least one thing about each of my individual students and take the time to truly know them before I began tossing content straight at them and expecting them to just sit there and learn it because I wanted them to. Well, it was extremely gratifying to accomplish that mission. To my surprise I could now tell you almost anything about the uber important adolescent topics of k-pop, one direction, dub step, conspiracy theories, or basketball all-stars. Someone once told me “your students won’t care what you know until they know that you care.” I am now living and breathing proof of that philosophy.

After finally accepting my faults and making some adjustments, it was evident that the students’ became more receptive to the content. Only then was I able to take those “best and brightest” theories and put them into practice. Since, I knew my students as individuals I was able to really accommodate what I was teaching in class to their interests. The changes in teaching techniques have been extremely rewarding. My students have created products in class that have completely surpassed my expectations. They have produced digital encyclopedias, worked on whole class committees, held discussions via twitter, completed in depth research projects, written essays from multiple perspectives, planned service learning projects, held seminars, and debated modern social issues. Since I was able to really know my “people” in class, I was able to take their personalities, ideas, beliefs, abilities, preferences, and most importantly feelings into consideration when teaching them; they appreciated that. However, since they are middle school students they didn’t exactly express that gratitude in the typical “thank you for caring” way. Instead the occasional smile in the hall, the “Hey Ms. Hewett” as they are at track practice, the questions about what we were doing in class today, and the slow movement when the bell rings for them to be dismissed showed that their interest were undoubtedly peaked and they were finally engaged. Their motivation to not only complete assignments, but to also learn the material is what ultimately blew me away! I could tell success stories for days!

More than anything the success I have seen with student attitudes speaks volumes about the importance of knowing your students personally. I may have had to learn a tough lesson, and really get an “ego-check” but the truth is the lessons my students taught me about modesty are ones I would not have gone very far without learning. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Of course you will insist on modesty in the children, and respect to their teachers, but if the boy stops you in your speech, cries out that you are wrong and sets you right, hug him!” The immediate rejection of my entitled attitude by my students taught me an invaluable lesson. For that reason I will continue to “hug” my students with differentiation, modifications, inquiry projects, 21stcentury geared lessons, and most of all – INDIVIDUAL ATTENTION!

Until Next Time…

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