I haven’t blogged in a while, mostly because I am dead tired by the end of the day as I started a new job back in the classroom this year teaching Grade 9 English. Teaching is the most emotional, high-energy, and rigorous career in the world and I struggle to function when I get home. Don’t get me wrong. It is a “good” kind of tired, but I do feel “old.”
I love my students. All of them. I don’t get angry at them, but I am highly structured and do not tolerate any garbage in my classroom. The biggest issues I deal with is work avoidance and students who are talking while I am talking. Typical teenager stuff. On a grand scale of things a teacher deals with each day, this is minimal and can be worked out very easily. I am blessed. I teach at an inner city Charter School in the City of Buffalo. My students have challenging lives, but they know we care about them very much. That’s why they keep coming back, I think.
I am nearing the end of a long book study with my students. We have a class set of the book, Shoe Dog, by Phil Knight. I thought this would be the perfect memoir to read with my students because it is so interesting how the NIKE empire was built. At least, I thought this would be interesting for my students. But, many of them hated the book. When I saw that their fires weren’t lit, I started to read to them--with life, expression, and zest. That made it easier for them to swallow, but there was still something missing. They weren’t really getting tired of the book; I realized that they were getting tired of me reading to them each day.
Without offense, pockets of choice were given to the students. I let some students read in groups, some read silently, and others still wanted me to read to them. Call it “differentiated reader’s choice” or whatever you want, but that model of reading started to get us to the end of the book with more ease. Students wrote daily in their journals regarding all sorts of themes and big ideas presented in the book. That seemed to go well. The students have written over 6,000 words since the start of the school year--a sort of "writing boot camp" that I took them through. They are pretty good writers when they try; they just lack confidence, most times.
Along the way, their previous teachers may have told them that they weren’t any good at reading or writing. At least, that’s what my students told me. I don’t treat them like that. They are smart. Really smart. However, school, for some of them, is a perceived game that has compounded negatively over time and it may have lost its luster. And if they don’t play the game of compliance, they fail and most likely do not graduate and then . . . possibly drop out, unfortunately.
As I reflect on reading Shoe Dog with my students, I think I didn’t practice what I currently preach about activating student voice. Historically, I have scowled at whole class book studies unless they have a purpose. Maybe I should have asked my students how we should forge ahead from the start rather than wait until the middle of reading this book to find out that they didn’t like it or the way it was being rolled out to them? Maybe I should have asked students if they wanted to read Shoe Dog in the first place or if they had other ideas? Maybe I should have sold it better? Maybe they should all be reading what they want and maybe I should have moved to a workshop model from the start of the year--right off the bat?
Whatever the answers are, I know that my self-reflections and their input are the best tools out there for me and my students.
I also know that I keep on learning each day. I’m a “veteran rookie teacher in training” and will always be forever. My students teach me how to be better and I enjoy that aspect of my life so very much.
One of my favorite quotes from Shoe Dog is:
“It’s not about winning; it’s about NOT losing.
I may not always "win" my students over each day, but I know my students aren’t losing out and are receiving quality instruction. They told me so--especially when I finally gave them some choice in the matter.
For more information on how to engage students by tapping into to student voice, please visit www.letthemspeak.net. Rebecca Coda and I invite you to take the December Challenge by activating student voice.
For now, I have this sign on my classroom door:
JUST DO IT!