Anddd, the first quarter of my second year teaching has come to a close.
Friday was the last day of the first nine weeks and I honestly cannot believe how quickly the time has flown. I told the kids that we had spent nine beautiful weeks together and they all freaked out — “NO WAY” was kind of the general response from all of them. Just like most things in life, there are pros and cons to this time of year.
I really love knowing that things have wrapped up and that we get to start something new. New things excite me, and I think it’s always nice to get a fresh start every nine weeks. I know the kids themselves don’t necessarily get fresh starts since I have them all year, but they get to start over every nine weeks as a reader in my class. They aren’t bound by their successes and failures from the weeks prior, but rather they get a whole new start to new material. It’s quite lovely, actually.
For me, the end of this quarter also means that I get a trip to Asheville with some of my favorite people. Not too shabby!
Despite the pros, there are the cons. Those cons completely and entirely revolve around report cards.
I get it — we need standards and we need to know if our children are meeting those standards. However, how is quantifying a child’s progress with an arbitrary number showing a parent whether or not their child understands a concept? Yes, we give students 1s and 2s and 3s to show their level of mastery, but these kids are so much more than that. The girl from Mexico who speaks no English has a 1 for mastery in English reading this quarter, but she works so hard to speak English in my classroom every single day.
But she gets a 1 for non-proficiency.
OF COURSE SHE DOES, SHE DOESN’T KNOW ENGLISH.
How can we expect students who don’t know English to be proficient in English? Yes, it is my job to get those kids proficient and learning English, but is that fair to slap a not passing grade to a child’s name because their first language is Spanish? What about the hard work she’s doing in class to help herself get to proficiency? Do her parents even know what it means to be proficient?
Here’s where a pro and con come in — parent-teacher conferences. I will be the first person to say I have no fear in letting a parent know how their child performs in the classroom. It’s so important to always start these meetings off with student strengths and letting the parents and families know that you want the best for their children. From there, you move onto ways the child can improve and how you, the teacher, and the family can help support that child.
Some people think it’s weird that I like conferences. I like chatting with families and seeing kids outside of school. I think it adds a special dimension to the relationship you have with those kids and their families, and that’s something worth having. The reason I’m comfortable and confident with my conferences is because I really do love these kids — I would literally do anything in my power to keep them safe and to educate them to the very best of my ability, whatever it takes. I want parents to know that. I want them to know, without any doubts, that their child is in good hands in my classroom.
Ultimately, that’s what it’s all about — the relationships. If you really take a minute to think things through, you have to realize that kids won’t learn from you unless they know you love them and that you desire to have a relationship with them. Would you want to learn from someone who doesn’t care about your passions? Or ask how your weekend was? Or offer a greeting to you every single morning you walk through the door? Building relationships with these kids should be top priority before you teach any content, at least that’s my firm belief. I want to know these kids wholly, not just as readers. Kids aren’t compartmentalized, so they shouldn’t be treated that way. They, just like you and I, have passions and interests and desires for their lives that aren’t academic, and they want to be heard.
Build those relationships. Relationships with kids and their families — if you have that, you’ll have successful conferences, and you’ll have successful kids.
Once I remembered the importance of relationships over numbers filled in on a spreadsheet, it made my grade giving easier. I took into account the performance of each child while also contemplating the relationship I have with each of them. Yes, this student might be reading below grade level, but she has so many strengths to bring to this classroom. Yes, this student might be reading below grade level, but he is always asking questions to get him back on track with his assignments.
Always start with the positive. Always.
Another thing I love about the end of the quarter is giving awards. It’s so fun choosing kids to get various awards and publicly letting the school know about how awesome your kids are. Friday at the quarterly assembly, my homeroom class won the Class Community Award. When they came back and told me about this (I was curriculum planning and missed the assembly), my heart was so full of pride and joy. The administration recognized my kids as compassionate, kind little humans, and that traces all the way back to relationships.
Here’s to another quarter of relationship building (with a little literary fun mixed in there).