Student-Teacher Interaction


One of the most interesting years of my life is coming to end now: the posting of final grades this morning marked the near-official end of my first year of teaching. It has been quite a ride, and I have learned more than I ever thought possible. Despite not keeping up with my reflections like I had hoped (sadly), it’s time again to reflect back on what went well, what went wrong, and what went…well, crazy.
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I have been frustrated in my first year that I have had very little opportunity to interact with students outside of school. When I have, it has been great, and I have heard so many things from other teachers (or even student teachers, when I was in that stage) about how students respond well to seeing that teachers care enough to see them when they’re not required to.

Last Friday, I finally had a great opportunity to see some of my students in action, under some interesting circumstances: our girls’ softball team played in my hometown (where I currently live) against my alma mater. I knew this was coming, so I planned in advance to make it, and I took along my oldest son (the younger one would have come, but he had just had tubes put in his ears, and it was a windy day).

The reaction of students was awesome – the girls were initially pretty surprised that I came, with one of my seniors saying, “Wait, Mr. B is here? Our English teacher?” And they got to see my son in the throes of a meltdown, spurred mostly by the fact that there was a playground within sight that he desperately wanted to play on. I think that really did bring it home to some of them that, hey, I’m a real person, too. (Class discussions about autism have also helped this.)

And when I returned to school yesterday after the weekend, another teacher passed on that some students had even brought up that I came to the game, and she said they were impressed at that.

Again, it’s a shame that it took so long for this to happen (why can’t the teams here play my alma mater more often?), but I’m glad it did. Maybe this will lay some foundations for the future.

Fingers crossed.

The bell rings to signal the end of the day, and the students in my last hour class frantically escape their academic chains for the day. I sit at my computer and try to do some work, until my visitor arrives.

And arrive he does, in grand style: the door swings furiously open, and the student furiously takes a seat in the front row of my classroom.

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Tonight was the opening night of our high school play, which is the delightful parody High School Non-Musical. I had been planning on seeing this for quite some time, since the cast are mostly students of mine. My wife happened to get into a conference this weekend, so I went alone, opting to stay after school until the show started.

It was nicer than I expected: a colleague invited me to go out with her husband and their 5 kids, and I enjoyed talking with them about family and teaching and numerous other things while we watched their kids interact.

When we got back to the school, it was basically time to grab a seat so we could get good ones, and it was a blast. The kids were funny (although the humor was very subtle and very much contingent on pop culture and literary references, from Monty Python to Shakespeare), and many of them really surprised me at just how good they were and how much they did during the play. It was a pretty decent performance, and I really had a good time.

But perhaps the best part was afterwards, where the students had congregated in a hallway to sign “autographs.” I went through and had the cast sign my program (even a few who aren’t students of mine), and some of the students told me that I was the only teacher who stuck around after the show, despite several teachers (and even one student teacher) having attended the performance. We had some laughs, and many photos were taken, including one of me and all of the senior cast members. I loved it.

And more importantly, I hope they loved it and will remember me in that moment.

As a teacher, I want my students to learn. I want them to grow, to explore, to expand their minds. But I also want them to know that I care about them, and I am grateful for extracurricular opportunities like this to share that with students.

So I can say with confidence: Yes, it was certainly worth the wait.

A professional development opportunity I’ve taken advantage of this year has been a reading/discussion group of teachers in our building covering Todd Whitaker’s What Great Teachers Do Differently. (If that name sounds familiar, you might be a regular reader: see here and here.) It’s been very interesting to hear other teachers’ opinions on Whitaker’s 14 points, and a lot of discussion about our own school and how to make these things work has happened, mostly in a productive manner.

One subject that has come up – unsurprisingly – is the teachers’ lounge. (Which has also been a topic of discussion around Docere.) For almost every school, the lounge seems to be one of those institutions that teachers cling to despite the fact that it almost always propagates the worst attitudes that we could possibly have. Whitaker even mentions that the most common reply he receives from teachers when he asks what advice they would give to student teachers about the teachers’ lounge is “Stay out!” – which is sad, since there probably is a degree to which it might be cathartic for us to share our struggles and triumphs with other people who are in the same boat.

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…a mask and a cape. (No, not like these guys…)

We’ll be in day 2 of talking about Hawthorne’s short story “The Minister’s Black Veil,” and instead of going with a traditional veil (which I think might be somewhat awkward on a guy – but I could be wrong, since Mr. Hooper is the veil-wearer in the story), I decided to do a mask for the de-facing effect. I actually somewhat wish I could have found a Darth Vader mask in time since I sometimes refer to the anti-transcendentalists as the “dark side of the Force” (I also compare the Over-Soul to the Force when we talk about transcendentalism), but for today, a simple black mask that covers most of my eyes and my nose will do.

The cape, of course, is flair. It also has a hood, but I haven’t decided whether to wear it or not since it’s a little small. (The whole deal was homemade but not quite custom-made.)

As always, circumspection is required before getting hopes up about possible success, but I’m not worried about that so much – I just want to shake things up a bit. We’ll see if I at least do that.

I started losing my voice yesterday from some inexplicable illness, and I have prefaced all of my classes so far with that fact in order to perhaps elicit some sympathy. (Hey, it worked once during student teaching.) It did make something of a difference, actually, except for…

Mr. B: I’m losing my voice today–

Student: Good! That means we won’t have to do anything.

Just FYI, students out there, your teacher losing his/her voice doesn’t mean you get off the hook; it just means that there will be some modification, and when teachers can’t talk, that modification is generally reading or writing.

[Addendum: This is my 200th post. I wish it were more and that I posted more frequently, but hooray for 200!]

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