- The progress some of my students have made with reading: I have one second grade student in particular who speaks English as a second language. All last year I encouraged her to read mostly in Spanish so as to build her foundational skills for decoding and comprehending texts. However, for whatever reason, she struggled to decode words in both languages, sounding out individual sounds and not blending them together. At the beginning of this year, she was about a year behind in her English reading, and behind in Spanish reading as well. However, through tutoring, one-on-one time during silent reading, book club, and her own determination at home, she has advanced about a year in reading over the past four months, in both languages. She is even starting to read for fun!
- The progress some of my students have made emotionally: I had one first grader in particular who started out the year yelling, running, disrupting and defying every direction he was given in the room. He refused to come to lessons. He refused to do work. If he wasn’t slamming doors or ringing the chime unnecessarily, he spent his first days cutting up bananas and other fruit for smoothies because that was all that he was willing to do. He still is not an easy child to guide, but this week he has: volunteered to stay in at recess and clean the our pet betta fish’s bowl, showed another first grader a new math lesson, designed his own experiment and recorded results, made an abstract painting using watercolors, and responsibly run around on the playground for ten minutes each day (without supervision) and come back. Not every moment with him is peaceful, but more and more of them are becoming so, and, most importantly, he feels proud of himself for doing so well.
- How much pride my students take in working hard and doing challenging work: If I could sum up what I say to my students over and over throughout the day, it would be ” Do challenging work and help others do challenging work.” At the beginning of the year, it was like pulling teeth to get many of my students to do what they should have been doing. They all wanted to chat with each other or do arts and crafts or do works that were way too easy or eat snack for long amounts of time. I had to say no, set limits, take away certain freedoms, and redirect what they were doing a lot. It wasn’t very pretty or very fun. However, we’ve finally gotten to a point as a class where I’ve almost worked myself out of a job. I looked around the room this morning, and looked at my lesson plan, and realized I didn’t really know what to do because all of my students were doing what they suppose to be doing. They were all doing challenging work and helping one another. I was able to sit down with one of my second grade students who just started showing an interest in division this week and give him a rather long division lesson, that he loved and really understood (which, was amazing given that he came in this year at a beginning of first grade math level). My students have started saying that they want to works because they are challenging or because they want to master them (and that they hate doing other works because they are too easy). They also love to count the number of works they have done each day, and take pride when they’ve completed a high number.
- How much my students respect the community and each other: I would say the worst teaching moment this year (other than the one where I cried the week after Halloween because I was feeling so sick and no one was cleaning and it was time to go home and everything just felt really overwhelming) was when it took my students half an hour to settle down in circle. It was perhaps the second or third week of school, after recess, on a Friday, during the last hour of the day, and after telling my students over and over to be quiet, I decided to take out a book and wait it out. I thought it would maybe take five minutes max for my students to realize I was waiting and quiet each other down, but sadly it took thirty. Looking back, I definitely could have done more to get them to settle down (sung a song, clapped a rhythm, etc.), but I was also curious to see who the leaders were in my room at that point. No one really was. However, like with #3, through a lot of reminding students to be quiet in circle, encouraging them to help others be quiet, reminding them to respect the speaker and look at them with their eyes, we’ve finally gotten to the point where the students are able to settle themselves down on their own (mostly). I switched over to having second and third graders sign up to lead community circle a few weeks ago, and it’s been amazing to watch as people sit down in the circle on their own on some days, listen to the student who is speaking, and remind each other to be paying attention. It doesn’t always happen 100% of the time, and have had moments where I’ve had to intervene, but we’ve had a couple of circles that have been completely self-run by the students and, once more, I feel like I’ve worked myself out of a job.
- The way my students care for one another and the world: Empathy is no easy skill to cultivate, especially when I often find myself not being full of it. There are moments when I just don’t really want to empathize with a student who is loudly sobbing because he accidentally misplaced his water bottle for the fifth time that week (and he needs it right now!) or when I don’t want to help a student who was leaning back in his chair (despite warnings) and fell down feel better or when a student who constantly makes annoying noises gets frustrated at any other student for doing so. Empathy is so hard. Helping others is hard. Caring about the world when things are constantly going wrong is hard. However, despite my own cynicism and apathy at certain moments of the day, I see my students growing. This week, a new student joined our room, and I’ve taught her all of three, maybe four, lessons. However, she has gotten about ten works done each day, and learned how to use probably about twenty of the materials in the room because I have had so many students who have been willing to help her and teach her at every moment of the day. It has been beautiful to watch. Last week, during Problem Solving Circle, my students also voted to have a discussion about guns that went on for thirty minutes because they felt really passionate about making sure kids their age weren’t shooting pretend guns at each other, given all of the violence in the world. They also wanted to figure out exactly what guns are for (hunting, shooting ranges, etc.) and what they are not for (hurting or killing one another). They even brought up on their own how harmful playing violent videos games is in terms of making violent behavior seem normal or more okay in real life. They have also really started empathizing with Muslims in the U.S. and are disturbed by how the media and certain Americans keep stereotyping them as bad. Empathy is probably most visibly seen with the pets we have in our room (a guinea pig and a betta fish) who I rarely have to take care of myself because my students are so on top of making sure they have food, water, and clean spaces to live in. They already even have homes for the holidays.