Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 30 2011

What my kids gave me for my birthday yesterday…

So, to preface this post, let me just say that Monday was AWFUL. My kids were all over the place, I was all over the place, it was an avalanche on top of a train wreck in a post-apocalyptic tornado. Badbadbadbadbad. BUT yesterday was my birthday. And here’s what my kids gave me:

  • A Days of the Week song sung to the tune of the Addams Family theme song.
  • Hugs galore.
  • 85,000 paperclips, bits of fuzz, and staples found on the carpet (you would not believe the things they find so they can have the honor of handing me something).

And even better:

  • J1 (half my kids have J-names, and for anonymity’s sake we’ll leave it at that) really struggles with reading, partly because she has a speech impediment and can’t really sound things out very well. When asked to do a reading task, she often says, “But I can’t read,” as if it is an insurmountable fact she will never get past. But yesterday, she worked hard one-on-one for a whole lesson on something that is really and truly hard for her, and she sorted all her sight words correctly.
  • J2 really struggles to control his body, and spends at least part of every class twitching, flailing, and generally distracting himself and everyone around him. ¬†Yesterday he kept his movements inside his body, shaking or rocking but not distracting anyone at all. When he did have a meltdown (he has at least 1 a day, because he’s 6, so this doesn’t count against him), he snapped back into focusing and came back to do a perfect assessment.
  • B tends to slide down the slippery slope of behavior until he has to face isolating consequences, at which point he is so upset he can miss the whole lesson to sulking and hiding his face. Yesterday he got in serious trouble and went to sulk. BUT he came up after a little bit, waited his turn to speak (something he usually does only upon pain of death!) and asked, “Ms. EMinNM, can I come back?” This is the first time he’s taken the initiative to come back to learning after a consequence.
  • The final touch: overall, my kids got 96% mastery of the objective I was trying to teach.

I know that to the casual non-1st-grade-familiar observer, these presents might not seem so impressive. Let me tell you why they are. For my kids, there are easy paths and there are hard paths. Depending on the kid, the easy path might be reading or it might be sitting staring into space instead of trying to read. It might be paying attention, or it might be shooting your arms out in distraction and punching the kid next to you. It might be raising your hand, or it might be shouting out the answer uncontrollably even when you have been asked, warned, and finally forced to wait your turn.

In a way, I’m more proud of them for consciously choosing the hard path than I am for anything they can tell me on a worksheet. My kids, at 6 years old, try SO HARD to learn. Anyone can learn when they are able to sit still. Anyone can learn when they already have all the building blocks in place. Anyone can learn when their body is under their control. But some of my kids come in every day without any of those things, and work their little behinds off to try to learn anyway. They teach me a lot about what it means to work hard, what it means to be dedicated, and what it means to trust someone enough that you’ll work like crazy to do something you think you can’t do, because they think you can. What more can I ask for my birthday?

4 Responses

  1. Michael

    Happy B-day! or should I say J-day? K-1-2 are my faves to teach because, with all their behavior probs etc. there is really no guile in them yet. They haven’t learned to lie effectively, they genuinely want to please you, and most of their bad actions can be redirected.

  2. Happy happy birthday! I’v been looking for a blog like this… I’ve started my own on mentoring/tutoring at risk teens. You make great points about what makes learning easy for kids, and what makes it very, very hard. Thank you for doing what you do. I’ll definitely be back.

  3. cbelle

    As a former 1st grade teacher I know all too well how precious your kids’ gifts are.

    Happy Birthday!

  4. Courtney

    It’s moments like these that make me strive that much harder to get into the education system! Keep up the great work!

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In which I muse about New Mexico, teaching, and life in general.

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