“Mommy, Are We Done Grading Yet”

My dear 4-year-old son (DS)—“Mommy, are we done grading yet?”

Me—“Grading?” Asking, having no clue what he is talking about.

DS—“ You know, where I got the cookie.”

Me—“Oh, you mean voting.”

          My son and I had this discussion in the car on the way home last night. At first, I had no clue what he was asking me about, but in some time with a little probing I understood what he was asking. Often times we experience this with our students. Our students, as Robyn Jackson (author of Never Work Harder than Your Students) puts it, come to our classroom with a currency. Currency is what students spend in the classroom to obtain the capital of the classroom or the knowledge and skills that lead to high achievement. On many occasions there is a discrepancy between the currency students are spending and the currency we as teachers are accepting. Students for whatever reason lack the “soft skills,” such as how to take notes, how to read a textbook, how to study effectively, and how to behave appropriately; so, instead they become miscreants as it is better to look “bad” than “stupid.” Just because students come to class with alternate forms of currency does not mean that they are less capable.

Yesterday I subbed for a friend who I graduated school with. Across the hall was also a sub, who just broke my heart. He asked me about all the schools that I had been teaching; I told him that I had been spending a lot of time at a particular school. His reply was…”Oh, that school…that’s the ghetto of this city. The kids are just rotten.” I have never found the students at this particular school to be rotten; misunderstood maybe, but not rotten. They are spending currencies that we as teachers do not accept and we as teachers need to teach them those currencies; but, before we teach students the currencies we desire we need to find out what our students are spending. To follow are some ideas to discover the currencies your students are spending:

• Have students complete interest and learning style inventories detailing their intelligences, their strengths, talents, likes, and dislikes.
• Ask parents to discuss their child’s strengths, talents, likes, and dislikes. This can be done in parent-teacher conferences or a questionnaire sent home within the first weeks of school.
• Create opportunities for students to share stories. Ask students if they have ever had a similar experience to an experience you are sharing in class.
• Have students maintain journals. Esme Raji Codell, my favorite readologist, had her students keep journals. On entries that were personal, she instructed the students to write “for my eyes” and she would not read it. Little did they know that she did read the off-limits entries.
• During the first weeks of school, pay particular attention to your students’ dispositions. After you have been with them for a while you may be able to see through their moods. When you see through that mood and find something off, discuss it with the student in private. “I notice today that you seem to be a little sad, would you like to share with me how you are feeling.” They may say no and that’s ok.
• Take the time even when it feels like you don’t have it.

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