10 Things My Students Taught me
The Light Bulb Moment
The light bulb moment. Anyone who has ever worked with kids know about this. The kid who has been struggling has a moment where you can see it in his eyes: "Oh! I get it now!" As a teacher, I live for this moment. It's like the hidden treasure in what seems to be an average day.
But what I didn't realize is that my students had an amazing impact on me, as well. I worked the music program of several middle schools, and it has brought so much joy to my life. The majority of the kids struggled to fit in with their peers, but they were often the brightest of the bunch. I felt so privileged to learn and grow from their influences, and I look forward to the day when I can give back what I have been given.
I also worked as a statistics teacher for a university. I taught the remedial class, which meant I worked with the students who did not score high enough on placement tests to be put in a regular-paced course. During my time there, I worked with freshman, moms wanting to go back to work, adults wanting a change of career, and retired military attempting to get back into the civilian world.
So here's a little of what they taught me:
#10: Students always know when you are unprepared
When I first began working as a teacher, I didn't always think ahead. I thought that, some days, it would be ok to just show up and wing it. I was wildly misleaded.
They know. I don't know how, but they do. They know that there was no real assignment or plan for the day, and they WILL take advantage. They will try everything they can to get the discussion off-topic, to distract you from giving them any real work, and to basically just goof off for the entire time they're with you.
My lesson: always come prepared.
#9: Kids notice EVERYTHING
Ok, I'm a soda junkie, and the kids noticed. If they see me without my caffeine, they ask me if something's wrong. They also noticed that I am a little OCD, and I like things a certain way. I like things to be put in the right place, and I am happier if things are neat and orderly.
This created a game: the "Let's see how much stuff we can move without the teacher noticing."
I think I made it about a week before I started realizing what was going on. All of a sudden, my stapler was taped to the underside of the desk, posters were tilted to be just slightly uneven, and I had no idea what happened to all of my dry-erase markers! My classroom was chaos.
They all thought that they were pretty clever for doing this, and we all had a good laugh in the end.
Have you ever learned anything from an unexpected source?
#8: Students will be amazed that you are a real person
To them, you exist only in the school. Your entire life is devoted to lesson plans, decorating your classroom, and all things teacher-y. If they see you in the real world, it blows their mind!
I can remember seeing students on several occasions at random places like the grocery story or the mall. I always get one of two reactions.
1. The student will run up, hug me, and exclaim, "What are you doing here?!"
2. The student will avoid me at any length, and they will attempt to become invisible.
The student will always, once back in the classroom, announce, "Hey! I saw you yesterday at insert meeting place here." It's like a badge of honor to spot a teacher outside of his or her natural habitat.
#6: You have to give respect to get it
This one is kind of a no brainer. I see a lot of new teachers come into a classroom and basically expect that every student will show proper respect.
This is a myth.
In fact, you have to prove to them why you deserve respect. Tell them about your education, your life, and your goals. It will help them to see you as an authority.
#7: Dancing, singing, or generally making a fool of yourself will make any lesson memorable
I think School House Rock videos made this concept very clear. If you add a level of entertainment, the students forget that they are learning and actually take in a lot of the information.
Lesson learned: add music, hand motions, dance, or any other kind of kinesthetic activities to lessons to make them easier to comprehend
#5: Students will love seeing you make a fool of yourself
In this video, students are supposedly being interviewed for an end-of-the-year video. However, the teachers pull a little prank. Enjoy!
#4: Not fitting in can be the worst feeling ever
Working with the marching band, you meet a lot of nerdy kids. They like Pokémon, reading, and all kinds of other stuff that other kids deem "uncool." These kids tend to be the outcasts among their peers.
This always broke my heart because, too often, these kids were some of the best people around. They were funny, courteous, generous, easy-going, and just plain awesome to be around. Seeing them struggle was difficult to watch.
That's one thing I loved about the band. It gave the kids a home on campus. They met other kids with similar interests, and they made friends easily. I was a part of the marching band when I was younger, so I can attest to this: marching band friends are friends for life.
#2: I have "boy handwriting"
I write on the board, send notes home, or write on papers and such that I pass back. Kids see my handwriting all the time. And once one kid was brave enough to say it, it became the joke of the class. Anytime I gave someone a hard time about something, their response would always be: "at least I don't have boy handwriting!"
Lesson learned: kids are blunt... don't take it to heart
#3: A little "hello" can make someone's day
Every student wants to feel seen. I find that, when walking through campus during break times, saying "hey" to the students I recognize will immediately illicit a smile.
Small gestures like that can make a student feel noticed, important, and overall more content in a school environment.
Lesson learned: SMILE!!
#1: Assumptions Can Be Deadly
I will never forget my first day teaching a beginner-level statistics class. I made a lot of assumptions about the students' personalities and potential levels. One student, in particular, was able to prove me wrong.
This young man slouched his way into my classroom with headphones blaring and pants practically at his ankles. He had the "gangster" vibe all over him. I thought, "Oh no. This guy is going to be trouble." I was sure that he would struggle with the material, and I was worried that he would be a behavioral problem.
I was SO wrong. He was on-time to class everyday, and he was always called me "ma'am," even thought it was obvious that I was only a few years his elder. He did have some struggles with the material, but he attended the tutoring sessions offered by our university, and he was sure to ask me any questions he had while in my class.
I had never been so pleased to be wrong. He turned out to be one of my favorite students, and he taught me one of the biggest lessons of my life: never judge a book by its cover, and never assume a students' potential from the sag in his pants.
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© 2013 Stephanie Constantino