New Students, New Challenges, and New Mistakes

Each new year is full of excitement, wonder, and challenges.  I love meeting my new students and helping them feel like a part of our classroom family.  I enjoy getting to know how to best support and help my students.  However, the challenges might be my favorite part of a new academic year.  I find enjoyment in figuring out how to help a struggling student or encourage a reserved student to come out of his shell.  These challenges are what keep me going and longing for each new year.

Working with a new co-teacher this year, I’m trying to figure out how we can best help and support each other as well.  Things are off to a great start.  She is positive and runs the classroom very much like I do.  However, she comes from a very different independent day school where the students are fluent in English, talk about social issues, and are already connected to each other as they’ve been together in school since Pre-K.  While her background has prepared her to teach diversity and other social issues that our boys need to understand, she hasn’t had a lot of experience dealing with a class that is full of new students, many of whom do not speak the same language.  This challenge is new to her.

Yesterday during Humanities class, she had her first wake-up call of how different this class is compared to what she was used to.  She taught a lesson on the eight social identifiers.  She started with an image of an iceberg showing how most of who we are is hidden to the world.  The outside world only sees a tiny part of our personality.  The hard work, effort, persistence, and failures are not revealed to many people.  We keep them inside.  She shared this picture with the class as a way to stimulate conversation regarding the deeper, more vulnerable parts of who we are as people and individuals.  The boys added some great insight to the discussion.  Then she introduced the eight social identifiers and briefly explained what each meant.  Some of the words were difficult and our international students had a hard time understanding what they meant.  She tried to make the definitions tangible, but some of the ideas are abstract and challenging.  It’s not that this lesson was too difficult for our students to comprehend, it’s just that some of the ideas take more processing time.  So, to allow for this extra time, she then had the students brainstorm student-friendly definitions for each of the terms by working with their table partner.  This is where things got a bit out of hand.  The students didn’t fully understand the directions and so they started mapping out how each of the identifiers applied to them.  Then, once we rexplained the directions, they got back on track.  However, some of the groups still wrestled with the language of the terms.  Luckily, at this point, we were able to send the boys to Morning Break for 15 minutes.  This gave my co-teacher and I a chance to chat about what was going on.

She was very frustrated.  She didn’t understand why they weren’t understanding the words or directions.  She explained how she had done this activity at her last school and had no issues.  I reminded her how different this group is.  She wasn’t sure how to proceed following break.  So, I gave her some suggestions.  You should go through each word, one by one, and have each student share their definition with the group to be sure that every student understands what they mean.  This may take a while, but it is vital to the activity.  She seemed to understand what she needed to do and the changes she needed to make.

Once the students returned from break, she did what I suggested.  She reviewed the words slowly and carefully so that each student fully comprehended their meaning.  I then took notes on the whiteboard, synthesizing the definitions into simplistic language.  Although this discussion took the full period, the students clearly needed the extra time to process the eight terms in order to understand them.  I also explained to the boys why we were discussing these terms.  As we learn about other cultures and countries this year, we will use these terms to define and discuss them.  It is important to have a strong understanding of the terms.  I hope this clarification helped.

Today, when we reviewed the terms prior to having the students create their social identity wheel piece, they recalled much from yesterday’s discussion, highlighting the success of spending a lot of time discussing the terms.  For me, yesterday’s class was a way to help my co-teacher grow and see her teaching and the class from a different perspective.  It’s so important to have someone else to work with so that these conversations and opportunities can take place.  Had I not witnessed the lesson, I would not have been able to provide her with any feedback, and then she may have struggled with the second portion of the lesson following break.  While mistakes are part of life, being able to learn from them is the most vital part.