As I’ve gotten into my groove as a returning rookie teacher, I’ve rediscovered the joys of finding success in the little things. When I say “little,” I mean things that measure students’ success in ways that are not analyzed as part of a data-feedback loop in my PLC meetings, high school exit exam, English proficiency test (I teach English as a Second Language classes), college-readiness test, or online reading curriculum achievement assessment. (You know, the big things that label a school’s effectiveness, influence a teacher’s evaluation rating, etc.).
The first small sign that students were being successful came when Kiki’s scowl turned into a smile by the second week of me greeting students at the door. As of this month, it’s now blossomed into a full-blown hug every day. Considering that she has turned in journal entries about the horrific slaughter of friends and family that she witnessed in the Congo before coming to the United States as a refugee, I’m pleased as pie that she is capable of finding joy in learning and can build healthy relationships with adults.
After the first few weeks of school, I introduced students to our online reading program that comprises my course curriculum and periodically measures students’ lexile levels. In my Pre-Emergent/Emergent classes (classes for English Language Learners who often just arrived to the United States), I quickly discovered that half of my students had never used a computer before. Phones? Yes. A computer with a keyboard? Nope. After a few weeks of introducing kiddos to what a mouse is, how internet browsers work, where English letters are on a keyboard, etc., Oliver asked if he could take home a keyboard because his neighbor has internet access and a “big black box computer” – but it was missing a keyboard. He thought that if I let him borrow a keyboard, he could work on the reading at his neighbor’s house and help his little sisters learn what English letters are. Needless to say I, not only found a keyboard lying around my house, but I bought a few extra at Goodwill to check out to students for these kinds of occasions.
As the weather has transitioned to winter, Senka (who is from Rwanda) sent me a text message one afternoon to tell me that his reading journal was going to be late because he forgot to turn it in and now “hard water was falling from the sky” that was “hurting his skin.” He didn’t think he could walk back to school to see if I was there to turn in his journal. After telling Senka to get the heck out of the hailstorm and take cover (and after explaining that hard water is called “hail”), I told him to send me a picture of his journal instead – which he did. Yay for technology!
Finally, just last week, I chased (yes, physically ran after) Brajek across campus before school so that I could hug him and make a big fuss about how much I missed him in my 4th hour class. Why? Because I haven’t seen him in class for WEEKS because he likes to take an extra lunch hour instead of coming to my class. His family drops him off at school every day, but he finds ways to jump the fence or creatively disappear on campus. This week? That elusive ninja has made it to my class twice. Keeping fingers crossed here…
These small stories of success are difficult to measure, let alone find time to talk about amidst a culture of continual discussion about students’ progress according to a barrage of data-driven, standardized curriculum tools, benchmarks, and achievement tests. Don’t get me wrong, these measures of learning are helpful diagnostic tools for my craft… but that’s all they are: tools. The human beings that I teach – they comprise the heart of teaching, compassion, humanity, and goodness in the world. As I prepare to explain what Thanksgiving is next week amidst headlines of closing our country’s borders to refugees, my soul is thankful that I have returned to the classroom this year to meet these passionate, funny, and grateful teenagers that embody what it means to be an American. *Note: all names in this blog are pseudonyms.