Saturday, December 12, 2009

Students - The Best Part of Our Jobs

I love hearing when people complain about their jobs. It is really funny some times. Maybe it is funny because you can laugh when you have a great job that you really love. I have often thought, now that I am a few months into having my own classroom and a “real” job in the “real” world, what the best part of my job is. Is it the fact that I am surrounded by an awesome staff? Well that is great, but not it. Is it the fact that I get to work with a bunch of technology on a regular basis? Well, that too is great, but not the best part. Is it the fact that I get to work in a school that is constantly pushing the idea of education in the 21st Century? That too is an awesome aspect. However, I think hands down the best part of my job is the students.

We would not be there if it were not for the students. At the same time, the students make the job so much of not a job it is amazing. I just blogged about how they are different every day. Yes, they are, but that is the exciting and amazing part of this job. The best part about the students that I can articulate so far in my teaching career is helping them understand something “stupid,” watching them grow from a struggling student to one leading the class, being there through the low points, and watching them be passionate about something because of a connection you personally made with them.

Helping them understand something “stupid” - Hamlet, by many students’ first impression, is just that - “stupid.” However, after spending two hours yesterday morning (my students were on a field trip) with one group of eleventh grade students who previously thought that idea, they understood the material. They were excited about the material. They actually left with smiles and were excited about Monday.

Watching them grow from a struggling student to one leading the class - I have a student in one of my classes that has an IEP and does struggle through a lot of material, especially in my class. However, with Hamlet he has latched on and gone to town. I provided him, with the assistance of our special education coordinator, a variety of resources including the “No Fear Version” of Hamlet and he has gone to town. He understands the material very well. He is passionate about it. So much so that this week I had him sit down with a group of usually high achieving students and explain to them, in his words and using the text, what was happening. It was an amazing flip of a student from the bottom of the class academically and engagement wise. Now he is my go-to student (we all have these - right?) for Hamlet. He understands it and I have even given him the task of writing out some of the notes on the SMART Board. I am excited about his future in my class and I am trying to figure out how to achieve this same result in the next unit.

Being there through the low points - One of my high achieving students came to me after class on Thursday and wanted to talk. She sought me out and I listened to her issue. I tried to comfort her in the best ways that I could. It just amazes me the amazing difference of being there with these students. Some days I think it would be a whole lot easier to be a full time technology guy, but you cannot trade a conversation like that for anything. It is just, as the Master Card commercial states - Priceless. It was amazing to see her yesterday and her how thankful she was of the time that I spent talking to her and the huge difference that made for her that day.

Watching them be passionate about something because of a connection you personally made with them - It is stressed by college teachers everywhere to make connections with your students. Marc Prensky would take that a step further and say find out what their passions are. I, taking from both of these ideas, would say not only find out their passions and make the connections, but participate in their passion with them.

This week was the first annual “Spirit Week” at our school. It ended with a dance last night that I was planning on chaperoning. Why? I don’t really know, but I knew it was going to be a lot of fun. It came to be Thursday afternoon and the organizer of the dance came up to me and asked for a huge favor...she asked me to DJ the dance. Now, bare in mind that I have been around sound equipment for a fair amount of my life, enjoy listing to music and hanging out with high school students, but I have never DJ’d a dance - until last night.

Yesterday in class I mentioned to one of my students, who I knew from previous interactions has a passion for music, that I was going to be the DJ for the dance. She kind of shrugged and said “OK.” The rest of the day went by and I started the dance off and it was kind of lame. An interesting thing happened. Did you know that black and white people generally have their own favorite styles of music? So I was playing all this typical “white kid music,” as one student phrased it, and no one was dancing. Then my student from the ninth grade showed up. She was fired up and wanted to help out with the DJ gig. She respected my role as the DJ, but offered her own opinions. She made that dance what it was - an awesome party. She pulled out some of her music and we had a great time.

Her passion - music.
My passion - connecting with students.

Both of those passions were intermingled last night.

I could have shut her down and told her "No" and not taken any suggestions from students, but I didn’t. In fact, I set-up a Poll Everywhere poll for song suggestions. I screened them on one computer and played them on another computer. We had an awesome night because I allowed it to be about the students and connecting with them - in particular this one student. My relationship with her has increased exponentially. Plus, we had one heck of an awesome dance.

In conclusion, the best part of my job is hands-down the students.