Saturday, May 13, 2017

after 14 years

It's May and my eighth grade students are at the end of their year and I'm totally feeling the teacher fatigue that comes along with the end of another school year. I've been finding myself becoming less and less patient as the days go by and it just isn't working for me. So when my students came in upset about their end-of-the-year activities (or lack there of because they haven't met expectations) I realized I wasn't going to get anywhere with my plans without letting them be heard.

So I set aside the poem I had in mind for the day and asked them to raise their hands to share.

At first it was just talking over one another, and I had to reiterate a few times that everyone's voice is important, everyone needs to be heard, but then they started listening better, and so could I.

They were upset that their privileges (Six Flags, Dinner Dance, possibly the promotion ceremony) were being taken away. They needed to vent, to let it be heard, so that's what happened.

And then I responded.

Your choices.

Your choices determine your consequences, good or bad.

One student said, "Why couldn't they let us know about the point system earlier in the year? I could have been more prepared." 

To which I replied, "You've got a compliment and then reality check coming your way. Ready?"

She nodded.

"We all know how smart you are, there's no question about that."

She smiled, and I continued, "So don't act like 3 or 6 more months of the points system would have made one bit of difference for you. You would still make the choices you continually do. Your attendance would still be what it was. Your choices about how to respond to teachers would still be what it was, because it's not the system, but that your choices are now preventing you from having what you want."

She did not sit there quietly reflecting. She and her classmates had a hundred buts, most of which involved pointing to someone else. To which I found myself continually responding, "point your finger back at yourself."

Worry about yourself.

Take care of yourself.

Your choices.

No, really.... your choices.

I know it's the age, but it's the hard lessons. There aren't a million chances. Each action in our life has a set of consequences, good or bad. You have to live with the choices you make.

So what's the point of all this? It's not like this is some new revelation - middle school kids wound up at the end of the year.

For me, this was the first time I stopped and let them have time to speak their piece. This was the first time I - purposefully - set aside my objectives and gave time to hear them out. It was the first time I  realized that I didn't want to make myself miserable trying to persuade them to do what I wanted when they had too much on their mind to talk about first.

And after 30 minutes of this conversation, they all got to work. They were doing research... on May 12.... and they all got to work. Even my one kiddo who hasn't had the best time in my class lately, came over to my conferring table as he was supposed to. Huge win.

In fourteen years of teaching, I have learned that if you don't let them be heard, you will not get anywhere with your plans. So give them 30 minutes, (including a dose of reality to their objections) and then they will be able to get to work on your plans.

They will even oblige you with a class picture, and the two students who refuse to come over will be prompted - not by their teacher, but by their peers - to be a part of it too, because it's incomplete without everyone.


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