Part of the Process

Thoughts on becoming a teacher.


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Classroom Community

Over the past couple of weeks, classroom management has been a hot topic. As student teaching gets closer and closer, I’ve been thinking a lot about how my students are going to behave when my Cooperating Teacher is out of the room. I know that a huge part of the the classroom community is dependent on the relationships he has with the students. I’ve been worried that things will fall apart in his absence. As all these thoughts went through my head, the opportunity to test it out arose. My CT had a sub for the first time this school year. I wondered how behavior would change in his absence.

Overall, the students had a great day. But there were definitely some issues that came up and a few incidences that occurred that probably wouldn’t have if my CT had been there. I have been focusing on building relationships with these students since the beginning of the year and I know that it will continue to be a focus of mine. I’m a big believer in following a Positive Discipline method in the classroom (I used this approach in my preschool classroom and have seen how well it works). I’m figuring out how to translate my knowledge of Positive Discipline with 3 year-olds to something that will work well with 6th graders.

I’m also interested in helping create an environment that isn’t so dependent on the teacher. I came across this blog post by Jennifer Orr where she is thinking about the same issues. She raises the question of how to create communities that don’t fall apart when the teacher is gone. I wonder if finding ways for students to strengthen their relationships with each other would help. Would cultivating a stronger identity to the group/school help lessen the impact when the teacher absent?


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Grumpy

I have a student, Derrick*, in my class who is never without his “Grumpy” (the dwarf) sweatshirt. This sweatshirt is often a quite literal reflection of his mood. I know that school is not an easy place for Derrick. Derrick struggles. He is several grade levels behind in reading. I have seen him work diligently on a project for 45 minutes, make a small mistake, and then just throw the whole thing away. Derrick has a good relationship with my cooperating teacher (he was in his class last year too). I know that he enjoys his time in the Learning Center as well. Derrick loves to stay in during recess, and will talk your ear off about his hobbies and interests. But, here is my struggle: every time I try to check in with him during work time he just shuts down. He often works himself up to the point where he is breaking his mechanical pencils into pieces or scratching holes into his paper.

I’ve been having a mental wrestling match with myself. I want Derrick to know that I care about him and as his teacher, I can’t let him sit idly by. I know that relationships and trust are built over time, but on the other hand I don’t want him to think that it is okay to sit and break pencils if I ask him how he is doing. On Tuesday, we had an incident where this happened and I could tell that Derrick was having a hard time for most of the day after that. I tried to be understanding, to let him know that I understood that he was frustrated. My CT thinks that he probably doesn’t want me to see how much he is really struggling, that its hard for him to admit it.

I decided to just try to connect with Derrick at times when I could see that he wasn’t frustrated. He stayed in during recess on Thursday and it was just the two of us. We had the chance to talk about why he likes the Learning Center, more about his hobbies (seriously hard to get a word in, once he gets going!) and about some of the writing we have been working on. The next day he asked me for help in math. I’m not saying that Derrick and I are great terms yet, or that we can put the broken pencil days behind us, but it felt like a small step in the right direction.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Derrick this week, wondering what I should do. I’ve leaned heavily on Faber and Mazlich’s ideas in How To Talk So Kids Can Learn, and some of the principles of Positive Discipline that I used in my preschool class. Honestly, I’ve been frustrated, but I’ve also tried to look at things from Derrick’s perspective and practice empathy.

*a pseudonym

***UPDATE***

I’m happy to say that Derrick and I are on really good terms now. I think what really helped our relationship is my learning how to anticipate his reaction to things better. When I got to know him better, I knew what his triggers were. This allowed me to talk with him before an assignment or unit to come up with a plan together. For example, when I was planning to teach probability in math I knew he would become frustrated right from the start because it involves so much reading. We were able to talk about it and I let him know that I would be there to support him and he could choose to work with a partner as well. The following weeks went really well for him and he was happy to help motivate his partner to get work done too. When I look back on our relationship, I feel really good about how far we’ve come. It feels good to be a trusted adult in this student’s life. I hope that through our experience, we will feel at least a little more trusting of teachers as he moves onto to Junior High next year.


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Lifelong Learning

The reading for class today was an excerpt from Mindset by Carol Dwek. This reading had me thinking about my own learning and how I view others. I think that I am somewhere between a “fixed mindset” and a “growth mindset”. I know I have thought to myself, “Oh, I’m just not very good at that”. I’d like to be more mindful of how I’m thinking, and keep a positive attitude about struggle and failure.I kept thinking about this as we moved on to the next activity, involving a human brain, lungs, livers and hearts. I am pretty squeamish, so I wasn’t delighted at the prospect of handling organs. (Full disclosure: I don’t even like the idea of handling a chicken breast, we’re talking high level squeamish here.) But after the discussion we just had, I told myself, maybe I’m not comfortable with this now, but I can learn to be more comfortable. This is a much better feeling than just writing myself off as unable to participate in activities where I feel uncomfortable.

One of the key parts of this reading for me was to be mindful of the way we talk to children, especially regarding praise. Several years ago, at the early child care center I work at we made a concentrated effort to stop saying “Good job” to kids. It was tough at first, its almost an involuntary response for a lot of people. I have tried to replace “good job” with phrases like, “You did it!” and “You worked really hard on that”. This sends a message to the child that they can achieve things through hard work and that their validation isn’t coming from an adult telling them what they did was “good.”

We also talked about Positive Discipline today, which is the philosophy I follow in my preschool classroom. I’m looking forward to learning more about how to use these same principles with older students. I like how Positive Discipline empowers children to be more aware of their emotions and the choices they make.

I’m left feeling excited about all the new things I’m going to learn this year and about everything I could accomplish as long as I’m not afraid of a little struggle.