Dialing it Back

I have gone from teaching children, aged 3-13, of affluent, professional parents to children, aged 5-9, of mostly poor and working class  parents. Significant numbers of my new parent cohort struggle with addiction. Some are or have been incarcerated. Many of my current students were born addicted to heroin. Some suffer from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Some students just never got enough love.

My Kindergarten classes are closest to being at grade level. Two of them are doing nearly as well as my affluent kids were. Grades 1, 2, and 3 are on roughly the same curriculum.

It's frustrating.

Guilt and shame just don't work. You can't say,
"You should be able to walk into a room and sit down without yelling."
"You should be able to pass papers and sit in chairs."
"You should be able to tie your shoes."

What good do such statements make?


Nobody has taken the time to show these children how to tie their shoes. Third graders walk around with untied laces. When they earn Karate belts on recorder, they can't tie double knots. Seriously, I need to teach them double knots! So here's what I'll do.

1. I'll make a sub plan featuring knot tying. Students will watch "Going Deep with David Reese", Season 1 Episode 2, "How to tie your shoelaces."
2. Lesson plans will be more concentrated and focused with all the activities in the lesson making the same skill manifest. This skill is the learning objective.
3. I will continually review the principles of Responsive Classroom, build relationships with students, and exchange best practices with colleagues.
4. I will pray for my students. Yes, pray. This blog isn't a public school. This teacher is part of one. I need to constantly remind myself that my students, no matter how troubled, are made in the image of God. They are lovable. Sometimes it's not easy to see that in all of them. But I can't be patient without keeping this in mind.

I can do 20 minutes worth of my previous lessons in 45 minutes at my new school. Students need more repetition and reminding. They also need more games and fun. Some of them have had bad experiences and hated music before. I need them to associate music with joy before I can effectively get curriculum into them.

In short, I need to meet my students where they are and take them as far as they can go that day. I can't think too long-term. I need to take this one lesson at a time. Teaching delayed gratification is tough. Sometimes I draw my students' attention to how far they've come since September. But that isn't always the best course of action. Some kids get the educational equivalent of fear of heights. They start thinking...

"What if I start messing up. It's getting harder and harder. OMG, I just realized how really hard this is. She's right, I never could have done this in September."

Most children don't have such fears, but enough do that I am very careful with my praise. I need to praise the effort and the grit, not the skill. Suddenly I'm understanding how grading on effort, not on achievement, has some merit.

I can't believe I just typed that. But it's true. I can see the reasoning. 


KirstenM said…
I'm a peripetic music teacher teaching the Wider Opportunities music programme in England to Primary school children. I work mainly in small village schools with very few serious social issues in their families. However occasionally I find myself with a class that I have to take right back to basics before I can begin to teach djembe or recorders or ukulele or whatever. Getting these skills in place is worth delaying teaching what I intended to teach; progress is amazing and frustration levels drop once this is achieved and EVERYONE has a good time! Best wishes

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