A couple of days ago, one of my students asked me if I was going to stay up that night to see Mars. It was news to me that Mars was doing anything special, but I didn’t ask him to clarify. I just explained that no, I was not going to stay up late to see anything. I was going to get some sleep, because “I am a much nicer person when I’ve had a decent amount of sleep. Trust me, you want me to get some sleep.” Another student asked me if that’s why I’ve been so nice to them lately.
I didn’t respond, but he’s right. I have been. Not because I’ve had more sleep though. In the last four weeks, I’ve tried being strict, and when they don’t do what I want, I’ve gotten frustrated. Sometimes this causes me to lash out, which is what the students perceive as being “mean”. Although let’s be honest – most of the time, it’s the fact that I’m making them do work instead of letting them spend the whole class period goofing off and talking to their friends that makes me “mean”. At any rate, being strict and “mean” hasn’t helped. They didn’t get any work done. They spent their time arguing with me instead of working. Ultimately my goal is for them to get their work done, so I’m trying something different.
This week, I’ve been patient and I’ve laughed when they’re funny and I’ve let them work together and I’ve let them listen to music while they’re working (magic bullet, right there) and I’ve asked them how they want to do things (should I write this on the board or do you guys want to write?) and I’ve listened to their suggestions and I’ve sent home positive emails to their parents. And they’ve gotten their work done.
Now, it’s not 100% of the students, and it’s not quite as much work as my ideal, but it’s happening. They’re getting it done. They’re getting more done than they did when I got frustrated and stressed, and I’m enjoying the class more. Some of them work really well together, and some of them just want to ignore everything going on around them and focus on getting it done. We spend lots of time just practicing, which gives them lots of chances to ask for help when they don’t understand. (It also apparently gives them lots of chances to complain that I’m ignoring them, because even in this amazingly small class of 13, I still can’t be everywhere at once.) They practice, I check their answers, they correct what was wrong, they practice some more, and they take a quiz (SBG style) every Friday.
When I talk to them one-on-one, it becomes clear that they’re learning. They’re not sitting quietly in little rows with their hands folded neatly and taking perfect notes and magically understanding everything the first time we go over it, but they’re learning.
What’s more important – that my classroom looks like the poster child of the model classroom, with students silently working and also smiling all the time, or that they’re learning? I WANT my answer to always be, without hesitation, “learning”.