Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Teaching can be a two-way street

From Saturday's Briefing:

I’m lousy at goodbyes, and yet I’m preparing for 47 of them, all at once.
We’ve got a week of school left, which means I’ve got a week left with 47 fifth-graders on the brink of their grand middle-school adventures.
This teaching life is a two-way street — volumes of material I’ve presented this year and, good gracious, an equal amount of material they’ve offered me.
My lessons this year, my first as a classroom teacher, have covered the American Revolution all the way through major events of the 21st century. I’ve demonstrated how to document your thinking while you’re reading. I’ve modeled persuasive writing and free-verse poetry. I’ve offered tips for remembering states and capitals (such as Augusta is the capital of Maine, no doubt because it would be pleasant to spend the entire month of August in Maine).
A small glimpse of what I’ve learned, or at least been reminded of, by my 47 young teachers:
1. Fifth-graders still love story time. They love to gather on the floor and listen to rich literature with unexpected plot twists.
2. Children are natural helpers. They want to contribute to their classroom, school and community. They blossom when given responsibilities.
3. Everyone excels at something. Some people just need help discovering what that something is.
4. When given the option to spend indoor recess playing on a device or playing a board game, at least half of the kids choose a board game. Connect Four is particularly popular.
5. No matter your age, it’s difficult to leave your worries at home. If it was a rough morning at home, it’s likely to be a rough morning at school.
6. Today’s children eat an awful lot of sugary snacks.
7. Students seem to remember history lessons better when allowed to stand on chairs and dramatically read famous quotes from the textbook.
8. Children crave permission to take risks and to make mistakes without fear.
9. If you’re upset, it’s best to take a deep breath and count to 10 before reacting.
10. Singing the “The Star-Spangled Banner” becomes more meaningful after you’ve studied its War of 1812 origins.
11. Fifth-grade girls notice everything — whether it’s a new haircut, new earrings, new shoes, new water bottle — and they’re effusive with praise.
12. If folks are grumpy or sleepy, break out into song. Any Frozen tune will do.
13. If Frozen songs grow stale, you can always rely on the canon from The Sound of Music.
14. Writing is more fun with dry-erase markers and a white board.
15. It’s difficult to answer the “why” questions related to slavery and the Holocaust, but it’s essential that we never quit asking.
16. Analyzing poetry is complicated work.
17. If snow is falling in Texas, don’t resist it. Go outside and play. Throw some snowballs. Create snow angels. Try to catch flakes on your tongue.
18. Not every child is gifted at playing the recorder.
19. No single standardized test can accurately account for years of education, parental involvement, student effort and emotional conditions on testing day. But when a child does well, it’s still worth celebrating.
20. No job I’ve ever had is as exhausting, as all-consuming. No job has ever been as rewarding.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at tyradamm@gmail.com.

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