Sunday, January 13, 2008


After two disappointing classes Friday morning (my supposedly
"creative" lesson plans quickly deflated like balloons), I did what I often
do to regain some confidence and inspiration: I visited another classroom. (It's always amazing how much good it does me to just sit back and observe a teacher and students at work.) All I did was watch Joanne give a spelling test to some 2nd graders, but observing these children struggling to show what they knew slowly settled me down and allowed my disappointment with myself to dwindle away. I guess it helped me get out of myself a little. It reminded me that it doesn't matter what I am feeling about my teaching; all that matters is whether the students are experiencing anything good and helpful. And Joanne's students obviously were.
These were my observations:
1) The kids were working very hard as they took the test. As I
watched, I saw that writing is an extremely difficult task for most of the
kids. Their little fists were clenched around their pencils, their faces
were contorted, and their whole bodies, not just their hands, seemed to be doing the writing. Some of them, in fact, seemed to write with their mouths: every pencil stroke was accompanied by a different contortion of the jaw and lips.
2) They wrote the way we breathe: in, out, in, out -- write, relax,
write, relax. They would bend over in extreme concentration as they wrote a word, and then lean back, breathe deeply, and take a break. In, out, write, relax. One boy nonchalantly balanced his pencil on his fingers between each word. This test was like a workout at the gym for these little ones. Work, chill, work, chill.
3) They paid almost no attention to me. Nary a one looked at me the
whole time I was there. They were just too focused on the challenging work at hand. Who looks at visitors at a gym?

This was a rewarding class for me to watch. There were no "bells and
whistles", no flamboyant "get the kids excited" activities. It was just a
group of children working with high intensity to demonstrate what they've learned. It was obvious that a great amount of mental activity was happening from the moment I walked in. Students were working, learning, and also -- by the way -- feeling good about themselves and having fun. (I saw lots of smiles.) It reminded me that teaching and learning, though it's usually hard work, can be a pretty simple process. It doesn't have to always be rocket science.
This thought helped me as I reflected more on my disappointing morning classes.

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