Helloooooo world! After just a week with my little ones, I’ve had way too many moments I’ve wanted to share with my friends & family. I’m going to keep a blog to share the light these kids bring to my life.
Sidenote: Some of you may be wondering why I didn’t move to Tennessee. Long story short, Teach for America wasn’t the right program for me. I admire and respect all corps members and what the program accomplishes, but after long consideration, I realized that I was not meant to work in Tennessee. I know it was the right decision & I appreciate all of the support from my amazing family & friends.
Downside of not doing TFA: I don’t have a public teaching credential yet. So, I was pretty bummed to think I couldn’t continue working in education this summer & year. After an incredible year volunteering with Clare LePell (the goddess… no, seriously) in two Sophomore English classes, two American Literature classes & one Honors American Literature class, I felt ready to tackle my own classroom. But, I didn’t have the opportunity to do so.
Upside: I got hired to work this summer! AND I have my own classroom. So awesome! (Oh, and I get to stay in California. No big deal.)
SO. I teach three sections of writing to sophomores and one long block of 8th-grade reading & writing. I get to help my sophomores write outlines, brainstorm, edit, revise and work on their grammar skills. My 8th graders get to read four novels and learn vocabulary, grammar, writing and comprehension skills. It’s honestly amazing.
First of all, these kids are super sweet & motivated to do well in school. They are literally dedicating 8 weeks of their summers (& lives) to improve their academic skills. Most of them have been signed up by their parents - lets be real, what 8th grade kid, or sophomore for that matter, begs to go to summer school? okay, well I did, but that’s beside the point - and are solely there to improve their SAT scores. Now, since most of them are there because their parents make them attend, I knew I had some work to do to get the kids engaged. So, what did I do? I shamelessly bribed them with candy. True story. Did it work? Yep. Always does! Just sayin’.
I also throw a squishy soccer ball at them to answer questions and pretend to die when I hear super bad grammar mistakes. They have to use their grammar super powers to revive me. We’ve had a few good laughs over semi-colons. (How many times have you been able to say you can laugh over a semi-colon? Probably not many! First time for everything, I guess.. Or, if you’re a nerd, you can laugh about grammar on the daily. Case in point.)
SO! I’ve also been getting them fired up (pun intended!) for improving their writing & reading skills by forcing them to scream “I’M BURNIN’ FOR LEARNIN’” every time I say “Good morning, class!” or “Have a great rest of your day!” If you think high school sophomores won’t yell “I’M BURNIN’ FOR LEARNIN,’” you’re completely wrong. I knew I was going out on a limb trying to get secondary students to say that to me every morning & afternoon, but those kids are LOVING IT. I came into class on Thursday and some of my students got there early to decorate the board with a campfire & our class motto. One girl even told me she put it as her Facebook status because she liked writing class so much. I almost hugged her.
My 8th graders, on the other hand, BEG me to let them scream it. They are an entirely different breed of human being. I get them from 2:30-5:30 in the afternoon. If you teach, you know exactly what I mean. They come into class like they just had 10 energy drinks. On the first day they were super loud, giggly and obsessed with their ethnicity. Yeah. Pretty much all my kids are Korean-American, Chinese-American, Japanese-American or Indian-American. They were so proud to say “I’m Korean!” or “I’m Chinese!” that I felt a little left out. But, it got a little old when they started (OBVIOUSLY) saying swear words in their language of origin and then giggling because I didn’t know what they were saying. (PS: If anyone wants to fill me in on how to say “Watch your language!” in any of the aforementioned languages, that would make me gain so much street cred. Hook a lanky white girl up!)
They figured out pretty quickly that I had high expectations for them and that I wasn’t going to let them go bananas for 3 hours every day. I think I’ve found a really good balance between high expectations and letting them be kids. I love that they can loosen up, but they also work really hard for me and know that I want them to be better English students by the end of the summer. It’s cool to have mutual respect with your students. It’s also cool to see how AWESOME an 8th grade brain is.
We’ve been reading Lizzie Bright & The Buckminster Boy, a pretty sweet novel about a kid who moves to Maine with his father, the new minister for the town. Turner feels super stifled and confined playing the role of “minister’s son” and dreams of freedom and adventure. He meets a young black girl, keep in mind this is during the 20s, and he clicks with her instantly. They adventure and explore and, I don’t want to ruin it for you :), but the town is NOT happy about the blending of races. My students are fired up about it! We’ve been working on projects on theme and character development and we’ve been talking through elements of fiction with them. They are super engaged and have thoughtful questions for class discussion and generally are knocking my socks off.
One day we got to discuss prejudice and the kids simply didn’t grasp the concept of segregation. I wish all people didn’t see the logic behind segregation, but that’s another point. The kids are required to write questions about the book we’re reading. I didn’t get to address all the questions in our class period, but I was looking through them after class & found a post it that said:
One of my highly-skilled fifth graders wrote this question. He had a hard time saying or spelling the word prejudice, but still knew that it was not a respectful thing. He did slip up and say the word “colored” and “negro” in a way that would make anyone uncomfortable, but he only did it because he didn’t understand the words’ implications. We had a cool class discussion on how the kids feel like they are stereotyped to be perfect in school just because they are Asian. I was super proud of them. Can you tell I already love them all? Aw, hell.
We made class rules and we’ve already done several projects so our classroom is our own. We’re keeping track of all the pages we’ve read & words we’ve learned. The kids are super excited to come up and update our posters on how much we’ve accomplished as a class.
Yesterday, I put up a “STAR WORK WALL” & all the kids were crowding around it congratulating their friends for being on the wall. One of my shy kids saw his work on the wall, he’s like three feet tall and whispers to me, and had the biggest smile on his face. It’s true; kids want to feel smart and appreciated. High expectations and positive reinforcement are super powerful classroom community builders.
We had a writing assignment on how Turner, our “minister’s son,” feels super stifled with all the pressures from the town. The kids got to write on the own pressures they felt. Every single one said their parents put a ton of pressure on them to get straight A’s in school. It was simultaneously sad and hopeful to read these responses. On the one hand, I feel really bad that they are so young and are forced to work so hard. On the other hand, they already value education and know that they want to succeed in life. I said thank you to all of them for being so honest with me. One of my kids always looks overwhelmed in class. He gets worried about details and will ask me a question about something I just explained. He bows his head when he talks to me and struggles with feeling like he can let up. I offered him gummy worms one day and he wouldn’t even take them from me because he had to wash his hands. These kids are so conditioned to abide by the rules and do what their parents say that I feel like I want to just feed them pudding and let them play tag outside. So, I do what I can to help them feel smart and rewarded and like learning is fun. I honestly think they’re having fun learning, and some of them feel shocked that education could be fun. It’s kind of cool to see that look of realization in their eyes. I don’t mean to discount their focus on school. I think it is amazing. They are brilliant and I know they will do great things. I think I just mean to say that I want to make class a happy balance of kid-friendly education.
It has been a week. A lot has happened and I wish I could share every minute with you all. I’m excited for this summer and I’m so happy to get to teach (AND LEARN) from my kids every day. I know I’ll see them bright and early on Monday and they’ll tell me that they’re BURNIN’ FOR LEARNIN!