Day 46, Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Looking for a little inspiration during a somewhat spiritless day of teaching, I paid a lucky visit to the Pre-K Teddy Bears, where I picked up some tips that will help me in my own teaching:
1) Develop routines that are both strict and relaxing. As I watched the children and teachers at work, I admired the orderliness of the activities. They were getting ready for outdoor recess, and the students obviously knew the exact procedure. First there was snack, then potty, then books, then jackets, then recess. There was even a procedure for waiting in line for the potty – different colored circles on the floor for the children to stand on. Amazingly, the students went through the routines in a strict but cheerful way. They were a disciplined group, but obviously a contented and happy one.
2) Work hard and nonstop. I was only in the room for about 10 minutes, but, just watching Heather and Leslie, I quickly grew exhausted. They were alert, focused, and extremely busy with their work. Each child needed undivided attention, sometimes three or four at a time. In my mind I imagined doing this kind of nonstop teaching all day long (which, I gather, is what happens in the younger grades), and I felt almost out of breath.
3) Head off problems with laughter. Several times, when things were getting too loose, both Heather and Leslie gathered small groups together to sing a song. There was “The ittsy bitsy spider” and something about “Mr. Knickerbocker”, and the songs always worked: kids relaxed, smiled, laughed, and all was orderly again.
4) Develop a sense of courtesy and respect. When the children finished their snacks at the table, they politely asked to be excused. I felt like I was back in my grandmother’s kitchen.
As I was leaving, I had the pleasure of speaking with one young lad. I told him I had once taught his father, a fine student of English. The small boy looked at me as if I had come from another planet and then went out to recess.
Today, during a 2-minute break in class, I noticed one of the scholars sitting quietly in the big chair and reading. After a few moments, he looked up and said, with considerable fervor, that he loved the book he was reading. He said he bought it impulsively at the Book Fair, and never dreamed he would like it this much. His face was flushed with enthusiasm as he spoke. It was gratifying to see a student taking advantage of the break in class to enjoy a good book – a book he has been reading for the past week during our daily 7-minute silent reading period. If 8th grade English does little else for this lad, I’m grateful that it is warming his heart with a few minutes for satisfying reading.
I noticed that a few of the students stepped outside for the break today, even though the air had a frosty feeling to it. They stood outside talking and shivering and smiling, obviously enjoying the few moments of chilly leisure.
A student came to me before class with her recently returned essay and asked, quietly and politely, if I could explain why she lost points. She showed me her essay, and it was instantly obvious, as I glanced over it, that her B+ grade was too low. There were just a few minor mistakes, and I had written several complimentary comments in the margins. It was clearly an A paper. I turned to the girl and saw tears brimming in her eyes. I leaned over and quietly asked her to come and see me during lunch, feeling regretful that my carelessness in grading had caused a child to feel unnecessary sorrow. (When she came at lunch, I told her I had made a mistake, and the grade was changed.)