Two classes

Please enjoy this kitten
Please enjoy this kitten.

When I got to Wellstone on Tuesday, I encountered one of the teachers I work with. She told me that they were having standardized tests all morning. Um, surprise? What will I do all day? So I went to the volunteer coordinator, who told me to go to one of the classrooms where students who didn’t have to test would be “doing homework or something.” Fine, at least I don’t have to sit in the hallway all day.

The teacher in that room decided to try to teach something instead of just letting the kids watch movies or dink around. The kids were mainly Spanish speakers, and the teacher found a story written in English and Spanish. The students took turns, one reading English and one Spanish. They didn’t all have strong reading skills in either language, but they got through it.

I had never worked with this teacher before, and it was fascinating to see someone who could get and hold the students’ attention and selected a lesson they would attempt even if it wasn’t graded. (There was some whining and stalling, but not too much. Honestly, I would have probably stalled, too–I can’t stand busy work and don’t like to make students do it.) This guy is a good teacher.

After lunch, they had their morning classes in the afternoon. (As someone who loves routine, this made me CRAZY.) One of the classes had a substitute teacher. It was…an interesting contrast with the teacher from the morning, if you get my meaning. The lesson was above their heads, the students didn’t want to sit still after being tested all morning, the directions were unclear…I literally  ran out of that room when the bell rang without stopping to put on my coat.

So, how do I become more like the first teacher and less like the second? She was at a disadvantage, since she didn’t know the students and couldn’t access the lesson plans. But still. There was no control of the room. When the lesson didn’t work, there was no flexibility to change. That is exactly what I don’t want to be, and I think the fear of being that type of teacher kept me from seriously considering this as a career possibility until recently. Experience is going to help, but until then…off the top of my head:

  1. Comfort in public speaking
  2. Having a lesson plan and a backup (especially a game or something)
  3. A loud voice
  4. Not backing down when disciplining (for example, if I ask for someone’s headphones, I damn sure better get them)
  5. Engaging the students in the lesson, especially the social leaders
  6. Reading the room and knowing when to change courses

To be fair…

Too cool for school.
Bad ass.

After writing last Sunday’s post, I reflected on what I wrote and thought maybe it was a little too positive. I actually woke up in that night thinking, “I shouldn’t make it look like everything’s perfect. I shouldn’t sugar-coat things.” I’m not sure if I woke up because of that thought, or if I just woke up while thinking that thought (if you see the distinction), but fortunately the following week gave me plenty to write about.*

It must have been spring break fever, because there were some crabby teens at Wellstone. Even a few kids who normally come bouncing into class and greet me right away were really off. The teacher asked a few students to move seats and they just refused. Another teacher asked two students to work together and they just refused. And then there was the case of the class who had to pick partners, and it took TEN MINUTES of class time. What happened?

Teachers, parents, others who work with kids: what do you do when they just refuse to do something? I haven’t figured this one out yet. Besides sending them to the principal’s office–that’s appropriate sometimes, but one probably shouldn’t bust that move except in extreme cases. The teachers in the situations I mentioned above took the kids aside and gave them a “Look, this is serious” talk, and that worked.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how polite some of the students have been. You hear horror stories about teens, and I was wondering if maybe these kids were different because of cultural differences. And look: everyone is entitled to bad days, and I know young people don’t always have the skills or the agency in their lives to express their feelings in the best possible way. But when it interferes with learning, what do you do?

*I’m also being cautious about complaining because I think I’d get in more trouble for talking about my experience negatively than positively. I just want to point out that I’m being really, really, REALLY careful about posting anything inappropriate or revealing anyone’s identity.