While this past Tuesday was Teacher Appreciation Day, I look at every day as Teacher Appreciation Day. Each new day, my students enter my classroom full of excitement, courage, wonder, and perhaps a little anxiety, and I am the lucky one who gets to work with them all day long. I am able to help them grow and develop as individuals, people, thinkers, readers, writers mathematicians, scientists, and problem solvers. I see them through their challenges and successes. I have a student in my class, who at the beginning of the year viewed punctuation as optional. She would craft an entire paragraph with only one period. After working with her all year on this skill, she is now able to proofread and edit her own work. Just last week, she crafted an amazing, properly punctuated paragraph. I am so proud of how far she has come. When I celebrated this great accomplishment with her, the biggest smile I’ve ever seen filled her face. That right there is an appreciation. It doesn’t get much better than that. I don’t need a week to receive special gifts from students and their fantastic families because I’m given gifts each and every day. This week, a student who had been struggling with his multiplication facts all year, had a moment of clarity recently and was able to totally ace his multiplication assessment. That’s just one of the many gifts my students bring me on a daily basis. I got into the field of education because I want to help students, because I see the value in making learning engaging and fun. I got into teaching so that I can help those struggling students overcome their adversity. I didn’t get into teaching for the money, thanks, or gifts. So, while having a week in which families and students shower me with donuts and wonderful gifts is nice, I am fortunate enough to receive amazing gifts from my students each and every school day.
One of my most treasured gifts as an educator is when students learn valuable study and life skills in my class. As my small, yet wonderfully caring and supportive school begins in the fifth grade, I have the terrific task of helping my students prepare for the rigors of life in sixth grade and beyond. My job is challenging because I have to find a way to marry fun and engaging learning activities with high-level study skills. I need to help students see the value and benefit in properly completing homework. I need to help students learn that proper typing form will only make life easier for them as they matriculate into high school and need to type 10+ page research papers. I need students to be self-motivated to want to complete high-quality work. This is a year-long process. As many students began the year in my fifth grade class not having to complete much homework, never having typed more than a few sentences, and never having had the quality bar held very high for them at their past schools, I had to help them transform themselves into students who see that homework helps them grow as students, that proper finger placement on the Home Row keys helps them become faster, more effective keyboardists, and that taking pride in the work they complete will help them grow into the best possible version of themselves. Being witness to my students growing and developing is one of my favorite aspects of teaching. I love when a student comes into my classroom in the morning, so excited to share with me the work that he or she completed outside of the classroom for homework the evening before. It’s so awesome to see them value hard work.
As I know that my students will be receiving a bit more homework in the sixth grade than they do for most of the year in fifth grade, I have ratcheted up the homework load since May 1. I want my students to practice learning how to best manage their time effectively now so that they are much better at it by the time they move into the sixth grade in September. I’d much rather have my students fail, make mistakes, and not be able to complete their homework this year, so that I am able to work with them to find ways to help them be successful before they graduate from the fifth grade.
This week in Social Studies class, the students had to finish reading a handout on the Silk Road and completing notes from it for homework. We began the task in class. At most, this task would have taken an hour to complete outside of class. While we haven’t had too many lengthy assignments like this for homework over the course of the year, I know that they will be expected to complete tasks like this on a more regular basis next year. So, I wanted to see how they would do. While three students were unsuccessful in attempting the assignment, everybody else was able to complete the homework. Because the task was tied to an in-class assessment, those three students who did not complete the homework, did end up not being able to meet two graded objectives. I could tell this was unsettling for those students, as they value success. That evening, the students had another night of challenging homework. They needed to work on their Tri-Layered Map of the Silk Road region. I made sure to touch base with each of the three students who struggled to complete the homework from the evening before, prior to them leaving. I stressed the importance of learning from their mistakes and making amends.
The next day, only one student came to class unprepared with his homework not done. The other two students put forth the effort, as they saw the value in hard work and completing their homework. I made sure to praise those two students for their effort. They seemed very pleased and proud of themselves. A little positivity and meaningful praise goes a long way. While I did have one student who still struggled with the task of completing his homework this week, I had what felt like a very good conversation with him on Friday. I talked to him about how this lack of effort is affecting his grades and ability to be prepared for sixth grade. I got the impression that he understands why this is an area on which he still needs to work. I’m giving this one student another chance to practice the skill of completing work outside of class this weekend. While I don’t assign homework over weekends or vacations, this student clearly needs to practice this skill. As he has much more free time on the weekend, I am hopeful that he will be able to work on his map for 30-45 minutes with still plenty of time to play and relax left over. So, I made sure he left school yesterday with all of the required materials to work on his map outside of class. I also made sure to ask him what he needed to work on over the weekend with his mother present. Because I have worked hard to form strong partnerships with the school and families, I am confident that this information will also elicit a few conversations between the student and his parents over the course of the weekend.
Helping students learn vital study and life skills in a supportive, caring, and low-stakes environment will allow them to move into the sixth grade more prepared and ready to attack almost any task thrown their way. For me, it’s all about the journey. My students begin the year excited, but lack some important academic skills. As their teacher, I need to provide my students with quests or opportunities for them to practice and gain these skills that they will need in order to be successful in all that the future holds for them. My many gifts to my students are these skills that will greatly benefit and empower them with knowledge and know-how. In turn, I receive the gift of transformation from each of my students. Looking back on where my students were in September to where they are now, I am filled with happiness and joy. They are effective, fifth grade critical thinkers and problem solvers. While a few of my students still have some work to put in to fully transform into effective sixth graders, they are making progress with each new day. I can’t wait to see what Monday brings.