An ideal classroom has curious students who are interested and eager to know more. Driven by their own success, they look forward to conquering the next step and the next. Proud of their achievements they eventually realize that hard work brings good results however, not all students are interested in learning because some find it difficult, laborious and boring. These conscientious objectors prefer to be outdoors on their skateboard, kicking a ball and running amok while their peers enjoy a mix of both play and school work.
Alex was in second grade and struggled getting started with his literacy work. The first two hours of school were devoted to reading and comprehension and he sat staring his work every day while I worked with my focus group. I’d call out, asking him to show me how much work he’d done and he held up a blank page. He lay his head down onto his folded arms and closed his eyes. Pretending to fall asleep was his favourite avoidance tactic and I’d say, “Come on Alex, open your eyes and let’s get this done before play time arrives. I don’t want you to have to stay in at play time to finish.” He lifted his face and looked at me groggily asking, “Whaa??” And after some persistant urging, with the playtime threat, he would begin.
Branko was a little oder. In fourth grade he avoided school work in general, especially when it came to having to write anything down. Branko sat at the front of the room where I could quietly push him to pick up his pencil and make a start. He complained that he couldn’t work because he had a head ache, he didn’t quite understand, he swore he already did this exact same work last week, he needed to sharpen his pencil, he couldn’t find his eraser… the excuses were endless and, when he did come to the end, he began again at the start – he had a head ache.
I sat with Branko one recess, gently explaining that if he just did the work like everyone else then he could be outside playing… and he interrupted to say, “One question…”
I raised one eyebrow, knowing that another tactic was about to burst from his lips, “Yes?”
With his sharpened pencil in one hand and the index finger of his other hand raised to indicate that this was a very important question he asked, “Do you mind if I toot because I feel like one needs to come out… it can’t wait?” I had two choices. Either to agree that he stay put and toot as he worked or to ask him to step outside to let it rip into the open air. Enough time had been wasted so I told him to just toot while doing his work. He giggled at the awful smell while I ignored it as if I couldn’t smell anything. It was quite a sickening smell. Such was my sacrifice on that day.
Claire was in third grade. She hated math and always needed a trip or two to the toilet during math sessions. This was difficult because if I didn’t let her go she stood and shouted, “My wee is coming out!” and her clothes quickly darkened with the wetness of the largest and most efficient bladder I’d ever known.
Sixth grade students were much more inventive than the little ones. They put their head down and worked studiously, totally engrossed in getting pen to paper with hardly a pause. At first I took this as a sign that they were on track and and not in need of any help. In fact I occasionally commented on how studious they were as they could focus without distraction. Toward the end of the lesson I wandered over to see how they were coming along and found they hadn’t done anything at all. Instead of a page full of writing, reading or math work I saw elaborate, artistic designs and a decorative title… but no work. I’d learnt my lesson at the expense of yet another lunch time devoted to ‘helping’ the lovely children get their work done.
Teaching requires a good understanding of each student’s social, emotional and cognitive quirks. As a teacher I am strict yet fair; assertive yet patient; angry yet kind; and unwavering in my expectations yet understanding at the occasional bad day. My words and actions constantly role model commitment, perseverence, hard work, empathy and pride.
Working with 29 children for six hours a day, five days a week, forty weeks per year can be both fun and difficult. The satisfaction in knowing I’ve had a positive impact on these young lives.