Wednesday, March 2, 2016

SOL 2 - Which path?

“No, Mr. Jones. None of them.”  This was the response given to me by three former students when I asked them which class they liked the best.

“Not since fifth grade.”  That was the response given to me by the same three students when asked if they had read a great book lately.

A few weeks ago, I was finishing up a few things in my classroom when, through the intercom, the school secretary’s voice announced, “Mr. Jones, you have some visitors here to see you.” I made my way to the office to see Nathan, Tyler and Grant standing there staring at their phones as they waited. After shaking their hands, and a few “Boy, you’ve gotten tall” pleasantries, they said that they just stopped by to see the classroom.

Walking down the hallway, I noticed that I was looking at them eye to eye. This was a bit unsettling for a teacher who is not used to looking at students at eye level. While their faces are more chiseled and voices are deeper, their demeanors and speech patterns had not changed. They were the same Nathan, Tyler and Grant from four years ago. I felt honored that they wanted to come visit me. Seeing former students is one of my favorite parts of this job. I love knowing that they are okay and seeing the direction in which they’ve gone. Now freshman in high school, I was interested to talk about where their personal and academic journeys had taken them. I stifled the urge to ask the kinds of typical teacher questions, and just let them lead our talk.
As our conversation progressed, I started to feel uneasy about what I was hearing. Amongst the laughs about sharing of memories, our discussion was starting to take a pessimistic digression. Gradually, I started to get the sense that I needed to ask those “teacher questions” about grades, homework and work ethic. I was about to open my mouth to ask about their grades, when I didn’t have to.

“High school kinda sucks, Mr. Jones,” Tyler offered.

“Yeah, teacher just talk at you and make you do worksheets,” added Grant. I sat and let them share their high school stories with a stoic face. On the inside, I was starting to feel a little defensive, as I got ready to defend my fellow teachers from the verbal attacks of these 14 year olds.

Again, just as I was about to interject, Nathan spoke up and added, “Now, all we talk about is grades and GPA. School doesn’t seem to be about learning. It’s more like a game now.”

As a fifth grade teacher, I have grown accustomed to seeing students leave and move on to another school. I do see students occasionally at high school football games, the grocery store and other spots around our city. Yet, I have not seen many of my former students since the last day of fifth grade. I guess I always assumed that when students leave my classroom community they would continue on in the same manner. My vivacious readers would remain readers. My expert problem solvers will excel in advanced math classes.
As I sat there listening to these three former fifth grade boys talk about their current school experience, I started to feel sad. I feel sad about how they don’t feel valued as learners. I feel sad when these guys say homework points make up a large percentage of their grade. I feel sad that they think school has become more about points used in a punitive manner, instead of being about the learning process. Sure, there was a tinge of the usual teenage angst to consider. Yet, there was also a sincere feeling of skepticism and distrust that came from these 14 year old learners.
Tyler, Grant and Nathan may only be 14-year-old knuckleheads who spend more time on their cell phone than reading or talking face to face. But, they get it. They know that school is not working for them.

Even though this reunion was a few weeks ago, it has stuck with me. It has made me reflect on my own teaching and the decisions I make with my students. When I look out and see those 26 faces sitting on the carpet staring at me during a reading minilesson, I sit and wonder. What will happen in four years? Will they feel like school is a game that’s been set up to see them fail? Can I inspire a love of learning for learning sake? Can I instill the Habits of Mind to make them active global citizens? Am I preparing these students to be engaged thinkers and problem solvers or passive consumers of Google-able knowledge?

I will continue to use these questions to inform how I build my classroom culture.

11 comments:

  1. Sad to hear their story...good that you're being reflective on what you can do to make a difference...I wonder how their teachers would react.

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  2. I love reading this story. It says a lot that they wanted to come back to visit you! There is so much out of our control, including education for our students after they leave us.

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  3. It's sad. I teach high school and work hard to make sure students have an engaging experience and love learning, but they do have a lot of pressure from parents to earn good grades. It's wonderful that they came to visit you. I'm like Amy—I wonder what their teachers would say if they knew how these boys felt.

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  4. I can connect to so much of this. I left the elementary school where I was teaching and moved to the middle school, with all four of my former 4th grade classes. It was both wonderful to see them grow, and difficult to see them change, especially when the change is a dimming of the passion. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and for caring about those faces in front of you. Lucky kids!

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  5. Leaving with middle school and high school students makes me admit, this story doesn't surprise me. It is so sad. I love the reflections and honest sharing your boys shared with you. They needed to touch base with you. School has become a game and unfortunately sometimes - it's a culture that has been created. Maybe our goal is touch as many lives as possible and hope they return to what we've embraced with them. I wasn't always excited to do a sewing project with my mom but I've returned to it and am thankful I had those experiences with her.

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  6. This is a beautifully written, honest reflection. Thanks for taking the time to get it down and for sharing it. All your readers will be thinking about their practice.

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  7. This is a beautifully written, honest reflection. Thanks for taking the time to get it down and for sharing it. All your readers will be thinking about their practice.

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  8. It's wonderful that they felt comfortable enough with you to share. Maybe send them some suggestions about books you'd think they'd like. Maybe they'd be willing to come to the elementary school and read to some fifth graders. You lit a spark in them and it's just waiting to burst into a flame.

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  9. It's wonderful that they felt comfortable enough with you to share. Maybe send them some suggestions about books you'd think they'd like. Maybe they'd be willing to come to the elementary school and read to some fifth graders. You lit a spark in them and it's just waiting to burst into a flame.

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  10. Hi Scott! Excited to see you are doing #SOL Challenge!
    I just ran into two former students last night at a district event. They were both avid readers, and had essentially the same comment for me - we loved being in your 5th grade class because we got to read so many things we chose, and we spent a lot of time thinking about books. Like you, I might argue those should be skills found throughout their school career.
    Glad you got to catch up with these 3 boys.

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  11. I always enjoy when students return to visit. Perhaps some of their reaction is in missing the carefree days of being in elementary school. We just don't know how good we've got it while we are there. How fortunate we are to be able to walk beside these young learners for a bit of their journey. I'm guessing what you taught them about reading - and loving books - will come back to them across the years.

    Glad to see you are writing away these days.

    Cathy

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