As a first year teacher, the process of learning about myself and the teaching profession has resulted in a roller coaster ride of emotions and recognition.In the midst of Winter Break I felt cold and isolated; anxiety riddled my senses and I dreaded returning to the grind. Yet, as I saw my student’s faces, and heard about their experiences over the break, my passion began to glow again.
Late in the week, I was approached by a group of boys to tell me that another student had been using bad language on the play ground. The number of boys coming to me, and knowing the circumstances of the boys in the past led me to trust that they were telling the truth and I needed to speak with the offending student.
This student has been an enigma to me for the past couple weeks. He arrived mid year with no cumulative file and a confusing array of abilities and disabilities. He is an English Language Learner, and as I don’t speak his language. He doesn’t print legibly, yet he is excellent in math. We have been just getting through the day, learning rules and procedures. He fit in socially with the class for the most part and has been making friends and finding interaction. However, it wasn’t until I addressed the “bad words” that I truly began to understand the world he is living in.
In my classroom, the policy of honesty trumps everything else. If you are honest with me, then we can move forward, find solutions and work our way through anything.
When I talked to this student quietly outside while the rest of the class worked on their assignment, he told me adamantly, “I did not say bad words”. I told him that a number of his classmates had come forward, and that I wanted to know why he was saying bad words. Then he began to cry and told me of the playground situation. The other students had been creating basket ball games with the strongest players on one team and the weakest players on the other creating a situation where they would always win.
This was the real situation that needed to be addressed, not the bad words. He knows that he isn’t allowed to say those words, yet, the use of these words at this age tells me that he is trying to communicate his dissatisfaction with the injustices of playground politics.
After I explained to the other boys that no one likes it when people create teams that are stacked for winning, we came to an agreement to have the strongest players split up and attempt to form stronger teams and teammates with the less experienced players. The boys, being the sweet age of 10, agreed that they would do this. They knew that what they were doing wasn’t fair, and they had been caught.
This did not solve the problem of my other student not being honest with me. I tried to see if he had said a word that sounded like the word that the students heard. He said no, no, no. Finally I told him that I wanted him to be honest with me. He looked at me like he didn’t understand a word I was saying. Then I realized that he had been looking at me as if I was speaking another language! The realization hit that although he is going through the motions of learning the routines of our classroom, he has been understanding very little.
In my teaching credential program we read all about these situations. We read what to look for and what to do when it happened. This moment was the catalyst that brought all that subconscious knowledge to the forefront. But, I was ready! I grabbed my phone, which already had the iTranslate app installed and introduced it to my student. I told him that the phone would translate his words and my words. Then I told him to say something. He said, “Hola” and the translator replied, “Hello”. There was a little bit of light that grew in his eyes at that moment, but he was still skeptical, I could see.
Then, I said to him through the app, “[Student Name], I need you to be honest with me no matter what.” When the app translated this, the understanding and comprehension that had been missing during most of our conversation appeared. Finally, he shook his head, “Yes, I understand!” he said, and he really meant it.
We didn’t get to use that app more that day because it was time to go home for the weekend. But, I will have my phone accessible to him next week and we will see how many more lights I can turn on for him every day. I even contacted our English Language Department at the district and requested that I get an iPad for my classroom. I know that there are other students who would benefit from this as well, but none as much as this student. In the near future I plan to advocate for a class set of technology so that students have immediate access to the things that will benefit them the most. In this world of abundance, there is no reason why my students should be stuck with limited technological access.
This little storm that my students created on the playground opened up the opportunity for new growth to occur. Not only am I lighting up the coals in my student who comes to school each day as if it is a drudgery, but I am lighting up my own as well.
This is the reason that I decided to teach. It isn’t to make sure all my students master some arbitrary standard the the state determined all students should know and when they should know it. It is lighting the lights inside them and giving them the opportunity to love learning as much as I do. If I can spark in my students the love of learning, then I have will created a learner for life. I just need to remember the tools that I already have on my tool-belt so that I can create these opportunities despite the external pressures to meet standards.
This week, look at your students and choose one, or a group that has the same needs and make a goal to light a fire inside them. Make a goal to be the change you want to see for that one student. Next week, make another goal, and then another. We are not alone, so go light up some learners!
Share your own stories in the comments below. How have you rekindled your flames?