Shoutouts & Celebration.

I have always been a person who has valued words of affirmation. When we use our words to encourage others and to affirm their choices, powerful things can happen.

When I taught third grade, students engaged in a Compliment Circle. Everyone sat in a circle on the carpet and had the opportunity to give or receive a compliment (they were also allowed to pass). At the beginning of the year, most students wanted to either pass or receive compliments. After the first couple weeks of setting up our routine for Compliment Circle, a domino effect would occur — once one student started choosing to GIVE compliments, all the other kids wanted to as well.

This was the perfect way to end class each day: reflecting on kindness that you displayed to others or that others displayed to you.

Because of the nature of middle school, the time I have with students is significantly shorter than what I had with my third graders. Sadly, this doesn’t really allow for a 10-15 minute window for Compliment Circle at the end of each period as I’m already desperately pushing copious amounts of content into a 66 minute block.

Enter “Shoutout Sheets.”

A few months ago, I started using these handmade sheets to acknowledge students regularly in class. They’re created so that both myself and other students can give one another shoutouts.

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The Shoutout Sheet!

Because I started implementing this in the middle of a quarter, my consistency wasn’t the greatest. I would either run out of time at the end of class or — well, usually I would just run out of time. Let’s be honest, time flies when you’re having fun and learning in the lab. 😉

I started making these motivator sheets a priority toward the end of third quarter and the kids started getting really interested (again, let’s be honest, who doesn’t enjoy being recognized for good work?).

As we kicked off fourth quarter three weeks ago (?!?!?! HOW DID THAT HAPPEN!? — will answer this question in a different blog post I’m certain), I made a concerted effort to ensure that a student in every one of my classes was being recognized every day.

One day last week, I completely forgot to stop class a few minutes early to give my shoutout. A few kids had left the classroom already but I stopped everyone else, saying, “WAAAIIIT! TODAY’S SHOUTOUT!” I scrambled to my desk to get my paper and saw students standing in my doorway (presumably my third period). I told the students to line up outside the door since second period hadn’t gotten out yet, but I quickly realized it was the rest of my second period standing there.

Well, we heard you had a shoutout, so…we came back!

As my heart grew about three more sizes in that moment, it dawned on me that these kids really care for one another and want to see each other excel.

With each shoutout given, the kids applaud and high five.

This notion was reinforced as I passed back post-assessments for our last unit two weeks ago. I told the students how much growth they made collectively and how some students quadrupled their scores from the pre-assessment they took so many weeks ago. A student raised her hand and asked if some of those kids who made a lot of growth could have their names called; the class was completely on board, so I rolled with it.

With each name called, the kids cheered for each other.

…and we’re talking legitimate hoops and hollers and claps and “good jobs!” ringing in the air.

It amazes me that I get to work with kids and watch them grow developmentally to understand that the world is larger than they are alone. It’s a beautiful thing to see students so invested in one another. Just another echo of the importance of building a strong classroom community that fosters trust and compassion.

Y’all, this is what it’s all about. Kindness. Helping one another. Showing genuine interest in the lives of others. There’s good everywhere — in our classrooms, in our students, in ourselves and each other — so let’s start recognizing it.

How do you recognize students (and even your coworkers!) for all the totally awesome things they do!?

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MOY Testing.

It’s that time again — time to conduct middle of the year (MOY) reading tests on all of my students. These tests are time consuming, and since I don’t have a TA to help me out it also keeps me from meeting with guided reading groups on a daily basis.

I haven’t done guided reading in so long — it makes me sad. I feel like I’m not helping my students become better readers!

The good thing about these tests though is that I can really see progress. One of my students who started out on a K at the beginning of the year is now reading at an M, and though that isn’t technically “where he’s supposed to be” at this point in the year, it’s still on grade level and I’ll take that as a huge win. I have a newcomer from Mexico who started the year reading at a C and she’s now at an E — progress, my friends! Almost every one of my students has made growth since August in reading.

Almost every one.

What do you do with the kids who don’t make progress? The kids who digress instead of progress? This is something I’ve been struggling with lately.

Am I a bad teacher if this student isn’t making progress like all the others? What is it that I need to do to reach this particular child? How can I meet his needs while still meeting the needs of 22 other children?

With this one student I have, there is a behavior plan in place. He has a checklist for each chunk of our day (literacy, math, corrective instruction, science/social studies) and needs to be rewarded immediately if he checks the things off of his list. One of the things that is almost always on his checklist is to complete a worksheet (if applicable for that day) — he’ll complete the worksheet, but many times it will be completely incorrect. This checklist has helped with his behaviors of rolling around on the floor and straying away from the group on the carpet, and he is trying to participate more, which is wonderful, but there has been little to no growth academically.

Report cards just went out on Friday, and there wasn’t much improvement on his. He hasn’t passed a single common assessment all year, whether it’s been from the district or created by my third grade team.

I’m in constant communication with this parent, and I’m sure to praise his successes as well as let her know if there are any problems. The parent is well-aware of her son’s academic standing, and now I just don’t really know where to go with things.

So, truly — what do you do? How do you get a kid who isn’t making progress to make progress? How do you make sure that this child is even learning in your classroom?

All and any suggestions welcome, as always.

Empty.

Well, it’s taken me a week or so to process it all, but about ten days ago I experienced a day from hell in my classroom.

First of all, let me say this: student teaching did not prepare me for this crazy time in the lives of children. The few weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas are insane and the children are, for lack of better term, off the CHAIN. My student teaching finished right at the end of November, so I never saw this period of time at school — such an eye-opening experience.

Friday, November 30 is a day that will live on in my memory as my lowest teaching moment. 24 eight-year-olds made me cry in front of them and I just walked out of the room in my dismay.

Yes, you read that correctly my friends: I cried in front of my class because they were being so disrespectful and rude and then proceeded to just leave them.

I rearranged the whole afternoon so that I could help them with math. We’re behind in finishing our current chapter book read aloud, but I decided to push that to the side so that I could reinforce some math skills. Kids were playing around and crawling on the floor and one of them stepped outside in the hallway because he didn’t feel like finishing his work — seriously, I felt like the most incompetent person in the world. I told them to put everything away and go sit at their desks since they so obviously didn’t want any help with the assignment. There were still kids playing around the room and I was just fed up with their absurd behavior (“absurd” is a word that my students now know because I use it so often to describe the way they behave at the end of the day). It was like all of the disrespect and the little things just finally  made me explode into a rage of tears. I was fortunate enough to not start shedding uncontrollable amounts of tears in front of them, but my voice quaked and my eyes reddened with each word I tried to speak (read: yell). Then, I just walked out into the hallway.

To be completely honest, I had no idea what the heck I was doing. I couldn’t really believe any of it was happening. Did I just walk out of my classroom? As I was alone in my thoughts, I heard one student yell, “YOU MADE MISS STEWART CRY!!!” and I secretly in my heart hoped they all felt terrible.

Another adult saw me in the hallway and went into my room to tend to my class. This certain adult is a man sent from God as a behavior specialist in Durham who is able to tame uncontrollable behaviors. He’s magical.

As I cried in the bathroom alone, all I could think about was how weak I was — how I couldn’t even keep it together in front of my students. How unprofessional and inappropriate and, ultimately, embarrassing.

The students left and I was able to talk out my feelings with my coworkers (love my third grade team to the moon and back), and we came to the conclusion that maybe this isn’t the worst thing in the world. Maybe the kids needed to see that Miss Stewart has feelings like a real person, too (because let’s be serious, when you were a kid you didn’t think your teacher was a real person either).

I finally finished my sob-fest and told myself that Monday was the start of a new week. As I was cleaning up and getting things ready to go, I saw a key in one of my drawers across the room.

Friends, this key wasn’t just in any random drawer — it was in my confiscated toy drawer (yes, BeyBlades are the bane of my existence and I seize them upon witnessing their presence in my classroom).

This was funny to me, considering the fact that I did not confiscate any toys on that particular day.

I walked across the room to the unlocked drawer and opened it only to find a few of the toys missing. I felt so many things all at once: anger, violation, frustration, sadness. Where does a kid learn this stuff? Trying to analyze this predicament, I realized that this student first would have needed to get into my teacher cabinet where I keep the keys (in this teacher cabinet, I also keep my personal belongings, such as my phone, wallet/purse, and car keys). Then, he would have had to unlock the drawer and take the toys.

Essentially, this is a classic case of elementary breaking and entering.

Truly, I was furious, and yes, I did cry again. Why would a child steal from me? What kind of environment have I been fostering to make a child think it’s acceptable to behave that way? What could I have done differently?

In that moment, I had to pack up everything and leave. I couldn’t be in that building anymore. Driving home, I simply felt empty. That dull, empty feeling was like I got kicked in the stomach.

See, I work so hard in creating good lessons (and executing those lessons) for these kids. I want more than anything in the world for them to love learning and to really gain a positive school experience. I’m doing everything in my power to pretty much give these kids a brighter future and they disrespect me and steal from me. That really hurts, and to the point where words aren’t even really sufficient since it’s such a deeply pained emotion.

It took me a couple days to get back to my normal teaching self. Monday I was still pretty upset, even though I tried to mask my frustration with the situation. Tuesday was a little better, but when I discovered who the toy thief was I was pretty unhappy with that, too. It wasn’t until Wednesday I would say that I felt like I was back in my groove — and trust me, that’s a while for me to be off-kilter in a job where I normally feel very in my element.

My small group leader told me that when I was telling her about all of this (there were tears involved in just the retelling of this fiasco), it reminded her of the compassion that God has for all of us, even when we disrespect Him and steal from the toy drawer. Stepping back, I’m able to see more of how this is such a perfect opportunity to show God’s grace and love to these kids.

Even though I feel like I hit rock bottom that day, I’m confident that it can only go up from here. This time is just so difficult for my kids — the holidays are crazy for everyone, but I think the prospect of not really having holidays to celebrate is what makes it even harder for these kids.

A friend told me I wouldn’t be as upset as I was if I didn’t love these kids as much as I do. I think she’s right.