Since I planned to sit here and write out the report cards that I was magically able to finish during the special movie hour today, I thought I would use the time instead to reflect on what I have learned in the past 4 1/2 weeks teaching summer school.
I’m going to be totally honest and say it has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
It’s been a physical challenge as I have never had to spend so much time not only standing each day, but keeping up a high amount of energy and enthusiasm for math. The days of bland lectures about angle postulates were nowhere to be found. Instead, I cut out figures, colored, glued things, and all the while smiled and laughed and was more animated than I’ve probably ever been in my life.
It’s been a mental challenge as I have had to completely redesign my methods of teaching for students who were 6-9 years younger than students I have taught in the past. Not only did lessons need to be simplified, but my entire manner of speaking to students and creating relationships with them was completely turned on its head. Not to mention, we’re also talking about pre-teen girls instead of teen-aged boys.
Because of these two challenges, I was particularly thrilled to meet parents last night. I heard such positive comments about myself and the coursework that I had the students do, that I was pretty happy to know that I hadn’t completely over-shot the teaching or traumatized the students with my somewhat dry personality. I left with the feeling of genuine accomplishment because it was a challenge.
So, I’m going to admit that is what I have missed most about teaching. It’s like the ultimate puzzle. You never know how 20 students are going to react to you or what you’re doing that day. You never know if your expectations are going to be too high or too low. And usually, you have about 15 seconds to assess and alter your plans, your attitude, and your expectations. And, you need to make this as seamless as possible. If you don’t, the kids know. And the second they know, you’ve lost them.
I can look back to two lessons that I know were completely over-ambitious. I think I was able to bring them (the lessons, not the kids) to reality very quickly and the “moral of the story”, so to speak, was still accomplished.
I can also look back to a lesson that was so painfully elementary that the students must have thought I was nuts for even putting it before them. Fortunately, that’s an easy save and everything can be instantly modified to make it more difficult for students who need it.
I listened to students last night describe to their parents the different between perimeter and area; the way they can identify diameter and circumference; and, the three types of triangles we learned about. It was a very satisfying moment. In a less-structured summer atmosphere, I did not formally test the students on these concepts. I asked questions and designed art projects, so I was thrilled to hear them re-cap the class lessons for their parents.
- I learned that I am actually too old to play double dutch. I actually hurt myself pretty badly doing this. I can laugh about it now, but wow, who’d have thought there was an age limit for those things.
- I learned that my teaching methods were very transferable or, perhaps, adaptable is a better word.
- I learned that little girls can be quite sweet, that their interests are inspiring, and that their desire for perfection is very recognizable.
- I was genuinely impressed with the love of tree climbing, the knowledge of Santana, and the deep interests in things like chickens, crocheting, and math. All of the above made me very pleased and happy about the education that girls receive.
- I learned that I can be extremely patient and extremely chipper. I also learned that I can be “on” for a good 8 hours a day.
But the most important thing I think I “learned” is that I am most at home being a teacher. I’d hate to say that I hated the last two years of my life, but I can see now that I was definitely not myself. Teaching has a way of fulfilling me in ways that I can’t even describe, and it’s in all of these moments of the past four and a half weeks that I was able to feel fully alive.