Friday, March 13, 2015

Year 5: Week 26 – The Results We Don't See

Earlier this week I was standing in the hall about to give one of my 5th grade classes the introduction to their lesson. One of the first grade teachers walked by and commented on how she was sure that they were thinking about what I was about to say and being respectful learners. She explained how she had taught some of these students’ years ago how to participate in class discussions appropriately.

It took a lot of effort at that moment to not burst out loud laughing.

It’s not that I didn’t believe that first grade teacher. I’m sure she got some of these students to a place where they were able to have respectful class discussions. However the reality is as with all of my fifth grade classes, I explicitly teach and continuously reinforce expectations for classroom discussions and behavior. The reason I have to do this is not because this first grade teacher is not effective. In fact, this particular first grade teacher is one of the greatest master teachers I have ever met. The reason I have to re-teach concepts has to do with the nature of learning and our job.

Whenever a single-grade classroom teacher asks me how one of their former students are doing (I teach grades 3, 5, 6 & 8), if it’s a good report they are happy, if it’s not it can be frustrating for that teacher. There’s a hopelessness that comes out when you work with a kid and find out that not much has seemed to progress a year or two later.

This is one of the tough things about being a teacher. Learning doesn’t happen in a straight line and often the work we do with students produces results that only become visible years later. At that point you as a teacher are not around and only with the years and your work combined with other teacher’s work in that students life have real lasting growth occurred.

There are things that we teach that have objective improvements. For example, at the end of 6th grade my band students know more notes and sound better on their instruments. Next year in 7th grade band they walk in the door retaining most of that work. However no matter how good I get my 6th grade band to be as community members and respectful musicians to each other, all of this has to be deliberately reintroduced every single year.

Yes, it’s frustrating to be teaching literally the same lessons to my 3rd and 8th graders about being good audience members and how to not interrupt others during discussions. It’s exactly the things that we have to reteach, the things about what it means to be good human beings and a community member that are the most important things that we instill as teachers.

I don’t remember the great lessons and many of the amazing teachers who helped me become the man I am today. That doesn’t mean that their work doesn’t matter and didn’t have a profound effect on me.

The most important kind of growth in our students is the hardest to assess. It’s in the immeasurable that you find what is at the core of what great educators teach every day.

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