Friday, May 16, 2014

New teaching challenges

All I could think on Monday was, "Why didn't people warn me about how hard teaching is?" Problem: It had nothing to do with classroom management, students being challenging, or lesson planning. It really had nothing to do with "teaching" but was more about all the other little things that aren't necessarily blatant in our job descriptions. It was nothing I had ever experienced before in three and a half years.

Teaching has been a place for me to build special relationships with amazing children. Some of those children drive me nuts and some of those children love me so much that they call me mom (some of those children are one and the same). Sometimes I even feel like their moms. I cheer for them at sporting events and applaud at their concerts. I buy all their fundraising junk and try to sell it to my friends. I'm a parent to teenagers at 24 years old. CRAY.

But loving teenagers unconditionally is a frightful place when you know heartache is a possibility.

On Monday, I found out that one of my students currently enrolled in my class died over the weekend. He had been fighting his most recent battle with leukemia since early December. He was enrolled in my advisory last school year during the spring semester and later ended up in my Math Models class last fall. I was thrilled to have him in class again and to have the opportunity to get to know him better.

Other students have passed away since I started teaching, but this was a first for me and my classroom. I'm not really sure what the best way is to find out about terrible news, but finding out about his death from a student who saw it on Instagram in the middle of class was not ideal. I was instantaneously a mess. *Connie, weeping in front of your students will not help the situation. Get it together!* Thankfully I waited until Tuesday to talk to the class he was in; I didn't cry, but it was close.

I'm not sure if I didn't realize losing one of my babies would be hard, or if I just didn't let myself think about it. Probably the latter. I now know first hand what it's like and this is your official warning: losing a student is by far the hardest thing I have ever had to experience. I hope I never have to experience it again because I love my kids more than I realized.

It's a love that makes my heart hurt when they are hurting and rejoice when they are rejoicing. It has helped me understand how the Lord feels when we face troubling things, reject His plan, or celebrate His perfection. His love is much more perfect than the love I have for my kids, but I can see how much more he hurts and rejoices in our situations, good and bad.

His funeral was Thursday, and I was glad I was able to go. As I drove up and saw the hearse, the tears were uncontrollable as they are now as I write this. The funeral was full on Catholic mass in Spanish, so I had absolutely no idea what was going on. Honestly, it didn't matter. His mom was weeping and hurting along with his family. I know how much I've been hurting this week, and it doesn't even compare to the love his mother has for him and how much his family will miss him.

I was pleased that his heart came through during the funeral even with the language barrier. Since he knew he was going to die, he had written letters to his mother and siblings to be read. I understood bits and pieces, and the heart that I had seen in my classroom was the same loving spirit I heard on Thursday.

I will miss him, but more importantly his life will have an effect on how I behave. Life is so short and the way I treat my students makes a huge impact on their lives. Every day with them is a gift, and I want to use each moment to be a positive influence in their lives. His death made me want to love on my kids even more and be more patient with them since my time with them is so temporary.

My challenge to you:
1. Love your kids a little more than you do right now
2. Be more patient with them because they are kids after all
3. Be a positive influence in their lives, you might be the only one

It's hard to love them as much as I do knowing that my heart can be so easily broken, but I wouldn't change it for anything.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Puzzles are Puzzling?

This week, we've been state testing. (YAY...not) I have been pushing the kids a lot over the past few weeks to prepare for the Algebra 1 End of Course Exam and praying that they finally pass this time. I teach a low group of kids. They struggle with math and always have. We fight the battle every day of giving up and not trying if it gets the least bit hard. It can be frustrating, but many days my eyes are opened to where their struggles began in math. Such was the case today.

Since we're testing, I knew throwing new information at them was useless. I decided to make them do some puzzles. I figured this will be fun, they will work together, and they will finish in no time. WRONG. A few thought it was fun, a small number worked together, and they didn't finish.

Here's how things went down.

4 kids and I worked on one 1000 piece puzzle. I told them to find the edge pieces, and they looked at me with bewildered expressions.

Me (in my head): ARE YOU TELLING ME THEY'VE NEVER DONE A PUZZLE BEFORE?! Ok, Connie, calm down. Teach them.

So I proceed to show them what the edges look like. We move on and the four kids begin to figure it out. They are enjoying themselves and work silently for 2 hours. MAGIC.

The whole class of 19 is back in my room, so we will continue the puzzle trend since it was so fun the first day.  I have three puzzles around the room, one already started (from Monday) and the other two still in the box. I let them choose which puzzle they want to work on, I say go, and they all get started.

Then, the complaining begins.

Me (in my head again): ARE THEY REALLY COMPLAINING RIGHT NOW? They are doing puzzles.

So as patiently as possible, we have a mini lesson on doing puzzles. I explain it's a little overwhelming to approach the whole puzzle all at once. Start with the edge pieces. Then move through the puzzle focusing on smaller portions.

Do they listen? Of course not.

They continue to complain that the puzzle is too hard and sit there chatting instead of working.

A little frustrated at this point, I sit down and work with each group hoping they'll get an idea of where to begin. Most of them don't.

Why is this so puzzling? *excuse the bad puns*

Taking a step back, I try to figure out why this is so difficult for them.

  1. Many of them haven't done a puzzle since they were young, and it was probably a very small puzzle.
  2. They lack logical and spatial reasoning. (things we've learned in Geometry but obviously not mastered)
  3. They don't try to simplify things. They just get stuck at the big picture and refuse to move on. 
  4. Problem solving skills are lacking. 
  5. They don't want to work together as a team.
This is convicting for me. What have I taught them this year? Did I teach them skills or just how to pass a test? Or are they just not able to transfer the skills they have learned? How could the year have gone differently, if we had done this first? 

I have to remind myself that I did my best with a tough group of kids and remember where they started in August. 

But let's come back to the last question. How could the year have gone differently, if we had done this first? I think it could be a really great activity for the first week of school. It introduces team building, geometry (edges, rectangles, shapes fitting together), and problem solving in a simplified way (breaking big problems into many smaller ones).

I'd definitely start with smaller puzzles (~300 pieces). Since the kids struggle already, start small, and build up to a more challenging level. Each team would get a puzzle all with the same number of pieces, they have one/two class periods to work on it, and there would be some incentive for the team that finishes first. 

The other thing I must remember is not every kid agrees that my way is the best. They may be slow, but they are struggling through. This is a good thing. I'm really trying to not be Sheldon... :)