The more time I spend with the children, both inside and outside the classroom, the more daunting a task writing this blog becomes. How can I ever expect to do justice to the hundreds of things that happen in a day, all of which, in their own way, are remarkable enough to communicate to the world?
If you remember, just a few weeks ago, I had said that the day-to-day of this life wouldn’t seem too exciting to an outside observer. Now it’s almost as if I’ve flipped 180 degrees. How come? Simple. I’ve fallen in love with my kids.
For those of you who know me well, you know it’s rather unexpected. And yet, I know, it will help me be more effective as a teacher in the long run. It will push me to do more and be better. Because that’s the thing – I’m scared I’m not doing enough. I know that this is a sentiment I’ve expressed time and time again, but even if my whole life becomes the children (and it almost has), it won’t feel like enough.
And although people say “you’re halfway through your first year” (I mean, it’s really not true mathematically even though I know we’re at Mid-Year), I still definitely have more questions than answers. But today, I do want to start with some of the answers I’ve found.
Luckily, the kids love to read! Perhaps the scarcity of books in their homes drives this love. Whatever the reason is, this fact has made me incredibly happy. I’ve started using the library as an incentive for them during history classes. (Oh yeah, I’ve set up a pseudo-library thanks to my grandmother’s generosity. I went to the Books by the Kilo book fair and bought about 30-40 books for them, which are kept on a shelf in the classroom). The two “best” students (rather arbitrarily defined by me, to be honest) get to take home a book from the library. As I implement this in better ways, I hope to develop more structures around it and create an increased investment in books and reading.
There are a few kids in fifth grade who can hardly read and understands words like “white”, “there”, and “what.” They are called emergent readers. The other TFI teachers in our school team put together a workbook particularly for these readers. I modified it and distributed it to my entire classroom. Many of my students can read, but they are not fluent. There is also a big gap between fluency and comprehension. I’m hoping this workbook will help in addressing both the issues to some extent. I honestly believe if we use it consistently and enough (and of course supplement it with other necessary materials), these kids will be able to read sentences and even paragraphs fluently in a few months.
Structures, Procedures, & Culture
The point of school is academics.
Throughout the course of my education, I’ve lost complete faith in this statement. What’s the point of being able to read Shakespeare if you can’t appreciate the beauty of the words beyond their academic value? What’s the point of becoming an excellent orator if you have nothing of value to say? What’s the point of being the world’s most eloquent writer if you have nothing of interest to pen? What’s the point of becoming a learned person if you haven’t discovered your passion?
I really don’t think there is one.
Rather, school is meant to equip a generation of critical thinkers and enthusiastic learners with the tools they need to succeed in life. Schooling isn’t training for jobs, although that has in its way become the natural consequence. And while a part of teaching does include basic skills and knowledge, the critical importance of values and mindsets as well as exposure and access cannot be overlooked. TFI as an organization completely acknowledges this and even trains us on how to integrate these things into our daily curriculum. Unfortunately, I have been lacking on the implementation. Translating intention into action is harder than anticipated with all the constraints placed by the school schedule, as well as the demands of other facets of this Fellowship. However, making excuses is not what I’m here to do, so I’ll just leave it at this: I will do it, and I will do it soon.
The Other Side
Remember the grueling anxiety before exam period? Remember spending nights cramming, drinking coffee to stay awake through lectures, skipping meals, and seeking respite in stolen conversations with friends? To my fellow Brown students, remember how packed the SciLi would be at 3 AM during finals period? Remember how much we cursed our teachers for setting ridiculous exams?
Now I’m on the other side, and let me tell you this: it’s no cakewalk.
When you’re invested in your students, their performance on tests is basically a measure of your teaching ability. And spending six hours a day with them, we have identified who needs help with what. So we spend extra time preparing and drilling them. Right now, my entire school team is holding extra classes on a daily basis, staying after school between 1-2 hours to help struggling students catch up.
What surprises me most is how much the kids want to attend extra class. For some reason, they love getting more time in school. I’m not sure exactly why, but again, I’m not going to question my good fortune on this. It’s a boon and for that I’m extremely grateful.
The thing that has been frustrating is that we are more invested in some students than they are in their own academics. Beyond just not doing their homework and goofing off in class, there are kids who cannot articulate why their disrespectful behavior is wrong. I’m afraid they don’t even understand how rude they are being when they say some things to others.
While there are hundreds of other questions haunting me, I think I’ll save that for later. After all, exams are approaching!