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Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Mar 29 2012

Small Victories

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.”

-The Serenity Prayer

Admittedly, I’ve never been very good at the serenity part…

Currently, as I work to make a change both within the classroom and in a greater context outside of my 8th grade science class, I’ve struggled to gain the wisdom that helps me know what efforts are in vain and which are potential fruitful. Whether you call that a blessing or consider it a curse, if something doesn’t change, I’m going to need a soul-sized hearse. :(

As test prep ramps up in anticipation of the state standardized tests, I’ve tried to find ways to help my students relax to balance the (mostly) rigorous work they are doing. Whether it’s pretending to be a clueless substitute or looking at baby pictures, I’ve found it vital to give my students some sort of outlet throughout the day. Fortunately, some of them have sports such as track to channel their energy. While I no longer like track and field enough to coach it, I enjoyed watching my kids’ track meet yesterday in lieu of lesson planning- there’s always more to do, but the investment benefits of attending sporting events are too incredible to pass up on. Today, a half-dozen students show renewed zest and interest since they finally realized that I cared because I showed them individual ATTENTION. These are students who aren’t necessarily disrespectful, but they really need that additional attention that I can’t always provide since I teach 123 students throughout a given day.

Seeing gains made at the individual level is heart-warming but also frustrating because I know that I could be doing so much more. It’s unrealistic to expect to forge deep relationships with 120+ students but I cherish those I have truly connected with. I hope my students recognize that I care about them despite, or perhaps due in part to my frustrations with the system. I’m angry because I can’t do more for them, not because I feel compelled to do more. In the grand scheme of things, I don’t care much whether they can balance a chemical equation, I’m more concerned that they develop the confidence to know that they can be competent if they put the work into it, though it won’t be easy.

Teaching involves so much more than pure content. Teaching is about responding compassionately to the student who suddenly parks himself at the back of the room and types up a message in Microsoft Word for everyone to leave him alone [in 72 font]; it’s about having a stern but thoughtful discussion with the boy who claims white people brainwash black students in New Orleans and are hypocritical for calling others “colored” when they are the ones who turn red when they get mad and purple when they asphyxiate. Moreover, teaching is about celebrating small victories like the 15-year-old girl who finally musters the courage to take a leap of faith and demonstrate that she, too, can excel at science. To be continued…

3 Responses

  1. “In the grand scheme of things, I don’t care much whether they can balance a chemical equation, I’m more concerned that they develop the confidence to know that they can be competent if they put the work into it, though it won’t be easy.”

    Amen. I know my kids are going to forget half the things they learn in math class. (Don’t we all?) But changing a kid’s mindset, that’s what makes or breaks an education.

  2. First off, how devoted are you in tanihceg your students and how much time can you allow to teach? Second, how many students do you have? Currently, I teach at a piano school where we use two major sets of books: Piano Adventures (which are for the beginners/students that treat piano lessons as daycare, etc) and the Celebration Series Perspectives (which can be used for third year students who can work well on songs). Both of the series include a technique and lesson book, however, the Celebration Series presents material in a more mature manner. If you can afford both, that would be very beneficial to your students. If not, I’d recommend the Celebration Series for two reasons: it’s a nationally acclaimed program and it’s a long term program (I was involved in that program for ten years). You see some more about the National Music Certificate Program, the program that correlates with the Celebration Series, using the last link listed below. The downside is that this program is costly for the instructor and the student because of an exam as well as the materials fee for the four books the student should have to be successful on the exam. It’ll probably cost around $50 per student for the materials, so if you would rather deal with less money, go for Piano Adventures. I strongly support both series and I have a large amount of students who would agree.I hope this helps!

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Remove Barriers, Raise the Bar

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