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One more time….

Grumpy. That's what I am.
I was so sure I would be able to transform my teaching this year. After years of encouraging teachers to take a chance, become student-centered, try technology, take a risk….I was back in the classroom in a 1:1 program myself.
I looked forward to seeing how I would use web 2.0 tools to make them better writers and thinkers. I wouldn't have any bored students in MY class. Oh no.
Oh yes.
Today I looked around my class, and saw it in their eyes. And it was not an unfamiliar look. You know it. The glazed eyes, the "I'm looking at you but I"m not really listening" look.
As they left the classroom, I plopped myself down in one of the comfortable lounge chair I purchased from Target over the summer and pondered what I'd done wrong. Oh, I am not so naive to think it's all me. Teenagers have bad days. Sometimes they are on, and sometimes life interferes in their ability to focus and participate. But I have the sense with this class (and it is only one of three), that the problem is partially me.
Anyway, I did what I always do when I want to reflect upon my concerns. I connect with colleagues.
 Susanne's blog post resonated with me today. She was writing about her own students when she said:

So what does this mean? First, it reminds me of the learning process —
learning starts out slow because those early stages can be hard. As
teachers, we have a duty to try to show our students WHY they might
enjoy this new learning, but I know I rarely grab every student as I try to do this.

Ok, that's true, I thought. And in ninth-grade, the early stages are even more difficult as we expose them to learning with their laptops, adjusting to a new collegiate schedule that gives them "unscheduled" time, and managing a more rigorous course load.
Why is this so important to me? Is it ego, the need to feel as if I am reaching and inspiring every student? I'm not sure. I feel frustrated, and I don't have any easy answers.
But I know tonight I am thinking again, of ways to step aside, to ask them to participate in their own learning, to not stare at me as if some magic words will come out of my mouth to "educate" them.
Tomorrow they are bringing in drafts of their persuasive essays entitled, "What Matters to You?" I am eager to see what they care about.
And I hope they care to share with me and each other. I know where I want them to go. So, as Stephen Covey says…..

Begin with the end in mind.

Here we go again….

11 Comments

  • Patrick Woessner

    I think we’ve all seen “that look” from students but it’s a fortunate few who recognize it for what it’s worth….
    Your great Covey quote reminded me of another from Kipling: “Begin at the beginning and go on to the end…but rake up the fire a bit first.”
    With your end in mind, sit back, relax, stir their intellectual fires and prepare yourself. What matters most to them will come through, and you’ll be able to soak it in from the comfort of a good chair…and prepare for the next “one more time” that surely awaits…

  • david

    I know nothing of teaching but a totally off-guard approach (silent treatment?) might get their attention. Then you pose the question that’s on your mind.
    A good run might get you that question to ask.

  • Susanne Nobles

    I hope you got some good sleep last night and have a great class today. These essays you are having them do are giving them a chance to care — you are giving them the chances, and they I hope take them. You can lead a horse to water … :)

  • Susan Carter Morgan

    Carey and Susanne, thanks again for being supportive. Sometimes things just don’t work, but it’s great to hear a kind word!
    David, what’s really strange is the problem doesn’t exist in my other two classes (same subject, same plans).I’ll keep working on them. Thanks for the suggestion:)

  • Laura's David

    Hey Susie. Resistance can be a good sign — it means they’re tuning in to the deeper (possibly more threatening) dimensions of what they are being asked to read and do. My bet: the “bad” class will turn out to be the “good” class. They are taking what you are asking them to do seriously, which means at some level they recognize their lives (not just school or grades) might be at stake. So some are refusing, others are in hiding. My two cents worth: let them know there is time and space and safety in your classroom. Maybe there are some who’ve lost or never had confidence in themselves as readers, or have never seen themselves as readers, or have dug in their heels as anti- or non-readers. At least, unlike the other classes?, they are willing to put it out there honestly and not just play Please the Teacher. Decelerate. Read together with them, aloud, so they can hear you read and you can hear some of them read. Go for passages where a physical response — like laughter — is a sign of understanding, so you and they have a marker for when understanding happens and what it feels like viscerally. Get them by hook or crook to notice and name how writing takes hold of their bodies — boredom included! Validate the reality of what happens for them and to them when and as they read and as you read together with them. Get them to focus more or what they do experience and less on their efforts to deny what they do experience in favor of what they’ve been told or led to think they should experience. Play dumb about parallel reading occasions where they are expert — like advertising — and get them to demonstrate their expertise to themselves and you by explaining these to dumb ol’ teacher. Let them know their bodies hold all the intelligence they will ever have or ever need.

  • Susan Carter Morgan

    David, how wonderful to hear from you! Thank you for your words of wisdom. I will consider them carefully. The quiet class is thoughtful. Their blog posts are detailed, and spirited. So, they are writers instead of talkers. I need to make that class feel safe, more confident to speak their minds. I love this line from your comment:Get them to focus more or what they do experience and less on their efforts to deny what they do experience in favor of what they’ve been told or led to think they should experience.
    Thanks again. Please pass on my best wishes to your family:)

  • Laura's David

    Hi Susie,
    L sends her love. Let’s reserve judgment on the wisdom or unwisdom of prior remarks until results are in! Even the question of “what they do experience” as distinct from what have been told or expect they should experience is fraught, since the screen of received ideas is so powerful and so easily confused with the reality of what is experienced. The pressure to substitute received and approved versions of experience is so overwhelming and the effort of being aware so daunting. I did want to affirm the grumpy moment of the teaching life and of classroom life as real and therefore a legitimate step or moment.
    Will you be in RI or VA Thanksgiving weekend?

  • Susan Carter Morgan

    Hi Patrick,
    Jennifer is a colleague of mine! And I just realized how close our experiences were, yet we are each in a different place. Thanks for your comment. I did point out to them what interesting blog posts they had written, encouraging them to also be willing to share them in discussions. You are right–as David is above–the moments when we are confronted with those looks are the moments we can all learn. What a journey.