Three months since my last post…surprised?
Ah, first-year teaching. Wonder of wonders.
Never before have I regularly found myself asking things like “has anyone seen the Mongolian dictionary?” and “what is the word for hiccup in Tigrinya?” Or I’ll be shouting “no you may not skateboard in here!” in English first, then pidgin Spanish, then, in desperation, Chinese. The students translate notes about who-likes-who to each other on their cellphones from Burmese to Arabic and back during class. Read: monstrously complex EL extravaganza/debacle/pain-to-end-all-(beautiful) pain.
Yes, I suffer from first-year-teacher suckage. How can I teach creativity to these kids if I haven’t even figured out comprehensibility of directions?
I guess I just wanted to share with any other first year teachers feeling the suckage out there that despite all of the challenges, you are still in a fantastic place to teach kids what being creative looks like. Unless you walk on water, you are most likely an ever-present model of living, breathless, painfully wrought creativity in your classroom. With the spitballs flying and the bells clanging in your ears, creative perseverance is the thing keeping you in the classroom, the thing that is somehow making you get better at this even though you may not realize it yet.
Model your struggles openly, the kids are watching.
My students can tell that I’m new, anyway. They could tell that my classroom management plan was not completely classroom-management worthy the first day I walked in. They could tell that I still hadn’t figured out all of the important Spanish cuss words, that I
often talked too fast for them to understand, and that I hadn’t noticed that they would need to be assessed for even the most basic speaking activities if we were going do anything other than talk about FC Barcelona’s soccer match the night before. I was so nervous that I would drop things constantly – dry erase markers, pens, sheets of paper. I looked like a one-legged wind up doll, wheeling about in wayward directions with my arms chopping up and down through the air.
But every week, whether or not I realize it, I’m learning something new that my students get to see. I realized they needed visual classroom management cues because language was a barrier to verbal comprehension, so I designed a system based on images. I realized that I could teach vocabulary or the schema behind something like persuasion by playing a movie clip that has minimal language in it and then asking students to observe.
I’ve tried to make the process as transparent as possible. Some days I’ll walk in and say something like “Hey, this lesson is about teaching you why writing paragraphs matters…and it’s experimental. You’re going to be persuading me to give you an A+. Let’s see if we learn, you tell me at the end of the day if it worked.”
Now I can’t say I’ve assessed this for validity and that sixteen different teachers say it is a sound method of instruction, obviously not. But I do think that it would be a boon to first year teachers everywhere to try to use how green they are to some kind of advantage in the cultural community of their classroom.
Show students what creativity means. It means coming back to teach after that period where they all started dancing on the tables instead of taking a test, it means coming up with a new scheme to have socratic seminars with newly arrived Ethiopian students that may or (most likely) may not work but is nonetheless valuable.
In time, as students, maybe they will follow the lead, and do the same.