This is how I felt during class this morning:
Our third class in our second grade residency was a roller coaster in every sense of the word. Extreme highs and lows, zig zags, moments of “I want to get off,” and even the post-ride mix of nausea and exhilaration.
We started class by transforming our room into an art gallery with our imaginations and doing a gallery walk of the drawings they had done last week, and Karen and I had this great compare and contrast activity lined up. We were so invested. The second graders were not. At one point, Mrs. M. had to leave the room and the classroom assistant had seemingly vanished into thin air. Karen and I knew we were no match for competing to be heard above 28 second graders. They were riled up, free from the structure of sitting at desks, and they didn’t care about listening to us at all.
It was time to re-group. We lowered the lights. We sat in a circle. We took a deep breath. We attempted to talk to the class about why this madness doesn’t work for our time together. They problem isn’t that they don’t know how to behave. They have all the right answers: “We need to listen more.” “We need to follow directions.” “It’s bad because everybody is talking at the same time and not listening.” They can repeat the class expectations back to us verbatim, but they are too distracted to put them into practice.
Our chat about behavior wasn’t going as planned. It was time to switch gears again. We took a game break and played some Zip Zap Zop. And then, something miraculous happened. THEY FOCUSED. They were engaged and responding to each other in a productive way. Seeing that it was physically possible for them to focus gave me the boost of positive energy that I so desperately needed in that moment.
The advice of my good friend and mentor, Amie Kisling, popped into my brain. “Make them a person. You have to look beyond their negative behavior and see them as a person.” When students morph into blobs of irritation placed on this earth to push my buttons makes teaching 100% not fun. But with Amie’s advice and this challenging group, I’m learning how to QUICKLY get myself out of these kinds of mental hangups and move on to the next thing.
10:40 am. Morale is slightly higher than it was ten minutes ago. But we had exhausted our arsenal of classroom management techniques. So what does my brilliant co-teacher, Karen do next? She gives direction in a slow-motion, whale- like voice. Our students ate it up! As we continued to transition into the next activity speaking as whales, we were bolstered by their sense of play and clear appreciation for silliness. What a relief.
We had a productive discussion about preparing for our trip around the world to different continents. We made a list of things we need to bring with us and segued right into our craft project of the day: passports! First I showed them my real passport. That seemed to really grab their interest, and they were excited to make their own. These young people LOVE to create. We passed out the card stock passports, set up the stations of crayons, and the second I told them we were waiting to see who was ready to start, every single one of them IMMEDIATELY stopped talking and moving. You could hear a pin drop!
This residency is already testing every teaching artist tool in my possession. I also noticed that I hit a huge personal growth milestone today. Six months ago, two months ago, maybe even last week, after a class like today’s, my perfectionist brain would have immediately jumped to thoughts like “I’m a terrible teaching artist.” “They don’t want to listen to me.” and “I’m bad at classroom management.” But that didn’t happen today. I’m so grateful for everything I’m learning in this residency, especially on days like today, that I’m on a totally positive train of thought in my reflection and planning process, and it feels great!
Karen and I both tried so many different things today, and many of them were unsuccessful. But there’s no use in dwelling on it. And there isn’t time. You try something once. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, you try another idea, go a different direction. Beating yourself up over a moment of failure just gets in the way. There are always more ideas, but you have to be open to them.