Thursday, May 27, 2010

Closed for Summer =)

Before I conclude Middle School Dribbles for the school year, I think I will write down my favorite memory from the year, and maybe even my least favorite memory.  Brainstorming....
Oooh, I just thought of both, and they go perfectly together! My least favorite moment was when students had to fill out "anonymous" student surveys after state testing. One of the questions was "What makes a GREAT teacher?" with a follow-up question of "Who do you consider to be a great teacher at our school?" Most of the students' answers had me smiling from ear-to-ear, until I read Kayla's response (her name wasn't on the survey, but she has very recognizable handwriting). She had been such a quiet, good student all year, so it never occurred to me that she might be feeling lost, neglected, or out of place. But she responded with:
"There are no good teachers at this school. All of them do nothing but
order us around, and none of them care about me. I've had good grades
all year long and have done everything I'm supposed to do, but none of it even matters."
OUCH. This was absolutely heartbreaking for me. And it was a wake-up call. Sometimes, as a teacher, I inadvertently give all of my attention to the students who are the biggest disciplinary issues, or who are on the brink of failing; letting the so-called "good" students slip through the cracks.

After Kayla brought attention to this fact, I vowed to make a connection with her. Every morning when she came in for second period, I personally told her good morning, and I began to ask her questions about her interests. She's painfully shy, so conversations with her were very strained. No matter what I said or did, I couldn't get her to crack a smile. After awhile I began noticing that she liked to draw, so I started to ask her about her artwork. But nothing really seemed to work. For weeks and weeks she seemed to "tolerate" me, but never really seemed to warm up to me the way my other students do.

When the Spelling Bee approached, I encouraged her to participate, and I was surprised when she agreed. She never did win a medal, but she made it to the top five. When I congratulated her and gave her an awkward hug, I thought I saw a little glimmer of something on her face, but still no smile. I tried not to feel discouraged, but it really just seemed that Kayla simply disliked me.

Now on to my most positive memory for the year. Staff Appreciation Week arrived, and during lunch, students had an opportunity to fill out a strip of paper in which they said something nice about a staff member at our school. One morning, I was going through a few of those slips that I had found in my box, and that's when I came across one from Kayla. The slip said, "Mrs. P. is a great teacher. She is a light that shined in my darkness, and I know she cares about me." I couldn't believe it. All of those strained conversations, all of those awkward attempts to have her show me her artwork and get her to open up to me--they were working the entire time!

Yesterday was the last day of school for my students. Kayla shyly walked up to me and, without saying a word, gave me a beautiful card that she had drawn for me. With slightly misty eyes (I'm such a sentimental sap), I told her that her staff appreciation slip, and now this card, meant the world to me. She gave me a stiff hug, but by now I have learned that those are the only kinds she knows how to give.

This whole thing has been a learning experience for me. On the one hand, I feel thrilled that in the end, I was able to connect with Kayla. On the other hand, I feel ashamed that I allowed so much of the school year to pass without noticing that she was disappearing into the background, and it took a so-called anonymous survey for me to really see her. Next year, I have decided on a "Post-it Plan" to ensure that this doesn't happen again. I'm going to place three stacks of post-its on my desk (one stack for each class), and on each post-it I'm going to write each of my students' names. Then, every day, I am going to tear a post-it from the top of each stack (similar to what one might do with a daily desk calendar), and whoever's name is on that post-it, I will make it a point to have a personal conversation with that student (ask them about their interests, family life, etc). I have heard stories of teachers who go an entire year never personally addressing a student by name, and I don't want to inadvertently become one of those teachers. If it wasn't for that student survey, I could have very easily been one of those teachers. And how many students from the past have I overlooked, but didn't have the benefit of a survey to let me know? Arghhhhh. The post-its will be an accountability system that will ensure that, from this point on, I am making a personal connection with every single student.

I am really looking forward to a brand new school year where I can start out fresh and try out some new ideas. But until then, hurray for summer!