I “Happy New Year-ed” a group of teachers at my niece’s elementary school last week. It slipped – those near started laughing, repeating the phrase “Happy New Year. Hahahaha.”
I like a new beginning. It is filled with the hopes that whatever resolutions or goals I make seem possible. Now granted, even with the emphasis on data, data, data, and accountability measures to report whether me or my students are teaching or learning does not distinguish my joy for the new school year. I know teaching is more than test scores and homework assignments or subject content. It’s getting to know the students and their strengths and “areas of improvement.”
I enjoy getting to know my students and we are on our best behaviors for the first couple of days, but eventually we falter. Today was that day for me. I pulled out my first student for being “disrespectful to the class.” The student avoided my gaze and figided like a trapped deer. She wanted an argument, and it’s difficult to get that rise out of me right at the start. Instead, I asked what bothered her, and she finally told me – she had taken that writing assessment in a different class and didn’t want to do it again. I then asked her what we could do about it. She was a bit surprised, and said that if I’d write a hall pass for her see her former teacher, she’d request for the booklet. Problem solved. And that annoying teacher-parent voice came out, “See how things are different if you just tell me what is bothering you? I might understand and try to help, rather than argue and make a scene in class.” (This is where I faltered.) She, of course, slightly glared at me for pointing it out, and then apologized to the class for the disruption.
I like teaching because it goes beyond content; it is learning about the student and working together to learn. I give several assessments to determine reading and writing levels and then project what our goals will be for the year (and they actually help in forming those goals). That’s content, that’s meeting standards, and along the way we have to work together and see the best and worst of each other. It is a daily ritual, coming together in the classroom and making sense of that time. I started class on the second day of school with a poem by Alice Walker, “Remember?” The last lines are, ”I would give to the human race only hope. I am the woman offering a flower whose roots are twin – Justice and Hope. Let us begin.”
Everything may fall apart after that day, but my kids know where I am coming from; they know I love language and all the parts that fall under it – reading, writing, poetry, stories, even graphic organizers. I love the challenge and I have to remember that they do too. As long as I focus on that, and not all the standardized measurements and policies, I can teach. And I know those icky policies are there, and I have to deal with them, but I’m not going to let it muddy up the hopeful beginning to a new school year…so, let us begin.
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