Think, boys. Think!

Remember that line from “The Music Man“?

And remember the dark day when I yelled at my students for being too creative?

It came back to bite me.

After state testing finishes, all teachers, regardless of if we should or not, feel a weight off their shoulders.  Some teachers even remark, “Now I can start teaching!”

During the fifth grade intervention time, my awesome team of coworkers decided to spend the last few fragmented (assemblies, field trips, traditions…oh my!) weeks of school doing book groups.  We left the structure open – allowing each of us to choose a novel and a group of students based on our hearts – not data.  Gasp.

I had a group of hybrid ability-levels and interests.  I chose Jerry Spinelli’s, “Maniac Magee.”  If you’re not familiar with the story, it involves a runaway boy who deals with death, racial tension, and family.  It’s a great one-of-the-first-coming-of-age-books kids should read.

Long story, short: as we read the book each day, we discussed some of the more mature, underlying themes in the story.  One major issue, race, kept coming up.  With one African American student in my group, it was a very significant issue that needed dissected.  At one point in the story, we had a few “heavy hitter” racial-based paragraphs – the kind that put a lump in the teacher’s throat as he’s trying to read aloud.  When I finished the chapter for the day, the room was silent.  With ten or so minutes left during the intervention period, I asked the students to take out a sheet of paper and gave these instructions:

“Wow, that was some heavy stuff!  Why don’t you take a few minutes and write a reflection of how these paragraphs made you feel?”  Just a general reflection on the end of the chapter will be fine.”

I walked toward my desk.

“Huh?”  “What?”  “What are we supposed to write about?” “What do you mean?”

The questions erupted from the previously shell-shocked group.

As all good teachers do when students ask clarifying questions, I repeated the instructions, verbatim, only louder.

The students must have sensed the frustration in my voice and began to [attempt to] work.  I collected the papers at the end of the time, paper clipped them, and stuck them in my take-home bag to read that night.

As I sat down to read them that evening, I was excited to see how the chapter had impacted the students.  I was excited to hear from their hearts.  I was excited to see them freely write about their emotions, their depths, their values.  And here’s what I got:

“The main idea of this chapter was mainly about…”

“I know that this chapter was mainly about Maniac because in the story it said…”

“The chapter is mainly about Maniac.  I know this because…”

“The theme of the chapter is about feelings.”

“Maniac Magee is the main character in the story.  I know this because…”

For the second time that day, I got a lump in my throat.  I had failed my students.  They didn’t reflect.  They didn’t think.  They didn’t feel.  They performed.  And it was disgusting.

It was a bad day, make no mistake.  But hopefully, through the lesson that they taught me that morning, I can change how I teach – maybe even change why I teach – and provide for my future students what it is that I want them to receive: passion.

The Real “Bad Teacher”

Teaching in the 21st Century…and blogging about it, requires that we’re willing to share the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Many of us share the good with the hopes of allowing others to replicate our successes.  But we can also learn from the bad and the ugly.  Here’s mine:

We all have our low moments in teaching.  One of mine surfaced last spring, just before our state assessments.  First, let me say that my teaching philosophy juggles, 1) the authenticity of real teaching – meeting the students at their level and interests, and 2) preparing students for these tests.  If everything goes well and I have mastered the former of the two, the latter will fall into place.

It was just a couple weeks before the reading test.  As the only reading comprehension teacher for my 70 fifth graders, their reading scores would fall on my shoulders.  This particular day, I was working with an intervention group with a passage about the history of chocolate.  The students sat, reading the practice passage and responding to comprehension questions about cause and effect, main idea, theme, fact/opinion, etc.

I had worked with the students on constructed response questions a zillion times.  One way was to give the students past released test questions as well as the official rubric that was used to grade said questions.  The students had to assess a variety of responses to the question using the rubric.  Scaffolding on up, I then had them create rubrics for questions.  No passage, no responses…just questions and rubrics.  “What are they looking for?” I’d say.  It [earily] is really just a formula.  If the question is, “What is the main idea of this selection?  On your answer docuement, explain the main idea and use three supporting details from the selection to support your answer,” then the students get one point for their correct main idea, and one point for each correct supporting detail.  Congratulations: 4/4.

Side note: For the previous part of the year, we had worked on good writing form.  This included topic sentences, supporting details, and concluding sentences.

So back to the bad day.  The students began to read their responses out loud to the class:

“There are several important things to know when it…”

“Chocolate is very interesting for many reaso…”

“When learning about chocolate, it is…”

“No, no, no!” I cried, cutting off each student!  And then I said it:  “STOP BEING CREATIVE!  JUST GIVE THEM THE ANSWER THAT THEY WANT!

Silence rushed the room.  I fell back in my chair, shocked, disgusted at the teacher who had the audacity to borrow my mouth.

I dismissed my intervention group a few minutes early that day.  It was only 45 minutes into the school day.  I needed time to regroup.  I had a full day of interacting with kids in front of me, and I had just told a group of them to, “Stop being creative.”  I spent a few minutes sitting alone at my desk.  I looked in the mirror in my closet.  I got a drink of water.  And when my next class came in, I started over, doing that thing I love to do: teaching.

Did my mistake that day come back to bite me?  You betcha!

OAT Severe Weather Protocol

My assistant principal circulated this email this week during our testing concerning severe weather protocol during the OAT (or OAA or whatever we’re calling it this week!).  For those not familiar with the test administration, unfortunately the logic shown here doesn’t deviate far from the actual instructions!

Protocol for Testing During Severe Weather