I finished student-teaching this past Friday. I got written feedback from all my students, the department head got me pizza for my final lunch and as an extra bonus the incredibly pregnant wife of the teacher I worked with all semester made me cupcakes. It was a pretty awesome day.
With a month of full-time teaching in America under my belt and less than a week away from graduating with my Masters in Education I offer a couple points of reflection that the past few months have taught me.
1) The biggest risk as a teacher is becoming jaded about your students.
I want all my kids to succeed. I want them to believe that with hard work and effort they can do anything. I really want them to believe that they are not stupid. But even in just 14 weeks I found myself at times standing in the middle of the class judging my students. Harshly.
It is shocking how quickly the negative feelings build up. I am a teacher, a highly-educated professional. How can this be happening? I realize that no matter how disengaged and uninterested and unimpressive a student or class may be that does not give me excuse to put them in a box. It is very clear. If I begin to not like my students as a whole, I need to stop teaching. The next point grows out of this point and is equally important.
2) I can never, ever give up on a student.
The senior sat in the front row. He rarely if ever spoke in class. He liked talking to his buddies nearby but that was generally it. He was absent 1-3 times a week. He rarely did work on time and if he was present the day of the test he did poorly. This behavior got worse in the last month. He missed or ignored nearly every major assignment. He was absent the last 3 days I taught. Entering this past Friday his average stood at a 28 for his final term.
The second to last period of my last day he walks in. He had an old homework assignment and had his project which he had put online a few days before. He presented his project and made up a test. We also had a conversation. I learned that he was a Muslim from India. He had come to America when he was 11 speaking no English He spoke 4 languages fluently but was still considered an “English language learner.” I had happened to teach about Islam just a few days ago but he did not say anything because of the recent Boston Bombings. He was going to go to mosque that afternoon because Friday is the holy day in Islam.
After our conversation he shook my hand and left. A relatively small interaction but it completely and utterly changed my view of him. Instead of a bad, lazy nonentity he was a true individual with his own set of challenges and motivations. Unfortunately I had hardly tapped into anything this student found meaningful until the final day of my last week.
Now to be clear, this event did not change his absence record, it did not improve his quality of work and it did not take back all the times he slept in class. But it vastly improved my insight of who he was as a student who I had the responsibility and privilege to teach.
It does not matter how bad or disengaged a kid is. It does not matter how much they show up. It does not matter if their home life is an utter shambles. That kid can do awesome work, he or she can work hard, that kid can be educated. And I cannot ever give up on trying to make that from happening.
All that is to say I am still very much in my idealistic new teacher phase. Bring on the job interviews because I feel like teaching some students this fall.