Slice of Life March Challenge – #8: Teaching is….learning something new every day…

The Slice of Life March Challenge is hosted by Stacey and Ruth at Two Writing Teachers
 After much preparation, we have begun our historical fiction book clubs.  Our careful read aloud of “The Boy in The Striped Pajamas” prepared us well for our first round of discussions, and each book group did some background research into the time periods for their novels as well.  The next step was to take our discussions on line – and our book blogs went up last week, complete with specific sentence starters and discussion prompts to nudge our thinking along.  The weekend homework was to post one “juicy” discussion post and comment on the rest of the group’s posts as well.  We did a mini lesson on this, practiced in composing them in small groups, and felt comfortable with the process. So far so good..
Come Sunday, however, I went online to check in and discovered that one student had composed an essay length discussion post – it was incredibly detailed, well thought out…awesome.  But, it was not a discussion post, it was an essay!  I just knew that her book group would be overwhelmed – how to respond to perfection? and which piece of perfection would one respond to?  Only one other student responded, and she prefaced her post with, “Well, Rachel has said everything, but…”. 
So, on Monday, I tried to clarify my instructions and we went over some responses (including Rachel’s) to try to decipher how to best create a “juicy” post, and how to comment on someone else’s post.  For the rest of the week, my kids have continued to comment, and it has been wonderful – we talked about the process today, and everyone felt that this type of preparation for book club was so much better than the written responses they had been doing so far. Yay for that.  But, Rachel’s group was still reticent…very few responses. So, we discussed ways of breaking down her lengthy response and choosing one point to comment on/react to.
Somewhere in my show and tell, though, Rachel began to feel “picked on.”  I thought I was being fair, and sharing many types of examples, but she felt differently. Only, I did not know.  I tried to be jovial about the whole thing –  mainly because I wanted her group to feel they could still respond, that they had things to say.  But Rachel did not feel that way.  When we wrapped up for the day, I felt that tomorrow’s book club meeting would be awesome – my kids would be primed for great discussions.
At 9:00 tonight, I logged on for a final check of the discussion posts, and found an email from Rachel. She felt awful. She felt that she had messed up the assignment and that I was disappointed in her work. She felt that I had focused on her essay and made it a target for smirks amongst her classmates. She was upset.   I was stunned.  What had happened??
I did not waste any time trying to figure out this or that detail or bit of conversation about the book blog over the past few days. What difference would that make? The important thing was that my student was upset, and I had played a part in it.  I wrote back immediately and said, in part:

 I show mentor texts (I consider your piece to be this) as a way to push my students to think better, think smarter and aim for the best.  Obviously, something has gone wrong in the way this lesson was received, at your expense, and I will correct it.  I value your hard work and your exceptional example of all it is and all it takes to be a remarkable student.  I consider myself lucky to have you for a student, and I hope that you will come and see me first thing tomorrow so that we can talk about this in person.  

I hope you get a good night’s sleep…and that you accept your teacher’s apology for whatever it is that has caused you this much anguish. I promise you that I will set things aright tomorrow.

I applaud Rachel’s parents for sitting down with her, as they must have, and figuring out a constructive way to channel her feelings.  They did not fire off a nasty email themselves, they let their daughter share her feelings with her teacher in an open and clear way.  And I applaud Rachel for  taking the initiative in communicating with me – she let me know how my actions had made her feel.    As I go over and over the past few days in my head, trying to think about how all this has played out, I’ve come to realize that the only thing that really counts is that a student perceived she was being singled out – and that it is my job to reach out to her and to the entire class to set the record straight….to lead by example.  We’ll have great discussions tomorrow, I’m sure…and Rachel will feel once again a valued member of our class.

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11 thoughts on “Slice of Life March Challenge – #8: Teaching is….learning something new every day…

  1. Wow! I commend your openness and your thoughtfulness as you work through this tangle of social networking. It is a challenge to work out the 'politics' of communication, especially in technology.

  2. At the beginning of your piece, I connected with this word…"juicy"…I use the word to get kids to write details. All of a sudden I realized your intent was not really to inform us of your teaching of response but to share a mini-drama brewing in your classroom. I love it when an author leads me one way and then throws a curve. I teach my kids about this (yes even in first grade). We talk about how the author is toying with our minds and controls which way the story goes. The author may not hand out the main idea of the text too early instead choosing a game of "cat and mouse instead". Thank you for writing such a great example of this.I hope your student and her parents understand you "good intent" and appreciate your open mind. Some teachers would have just shut her down.

  3. I cried when I read your response to your student after you realized her sadness. How lucky for Rachel she has a teacher that is willing to work with her students no matter the cost. You have also taught her a valuable lesson on how to deal with bad situations.

  4. What a great lesson for all. I, like you, would have been so proud that she was able to let you know how she was feeling. She could have shut down all together and it would be hard for her to come back after that.

  5. There is so much that went right with the way both you and Rachel handled the situation. It is very cool that she contacted you, rather than her parents writing to you or calling you at home. In addition, you apologized. I always apologized to my kids when I messed up. Do you know how many kids told me that I was the first teacher who had ever apologized to them? How sad is that? Good for you for trying to be proactive. Rachel will respect you so much more because of it and I think you'll both grow from this experience.

  6. I love the way you set the scene and took us right into your class and heart when you realized Rachel was upset. Hard to believe, but sometimes we miss signs. What a great learning situation in your class. Have a good day tomorrow, I'll be thinking about you.

  7. Wow, I am so impressed by the maturity of your student and the way you responded to her. I too, thought this piece was going to be about your lesson, not the drama that stemmed from it. It is so easy to step over that line, especially when you may have an extra sensitive student. Thanks for such an emotional and well written slice.

  8. Rachel has learned a life lesson. To express herself and to do it in a professional way. By professional I mean she knows you are the authority figure in the class and so she had to figure out how to handle this in an appropriate way. Her audience was you. She felt it important to share her feelings AND she knew she would be respected by you. You have given her a gift. The outlet to express herself. What a lucky student and class!!!

  9. Clearly the parents and Rachel already have a great trust in you & that you will handle her feelings with respect, and you did, and are! This is the game of chance I think we play when we are assuming one thing & the path goes so differently. I admire your response in this so much, Tara, just as every other commenter does, and am sorry that it turned this way. Although, perhaps the better lesson is yet to come. I also applaud your candor-great post!

  10. I too was drawn in from the beginning to how this was going to go. I believe Rachel was able to write to you because she already felt valued by you and trusted you. She felt comfortable enough to speak up! I LOVED your response! In teaching it is lead by example, obviously something you have already demonstrated in your classroom before. I believe one of the hardest things to do in teaching is reflect on ourselves…but it is one of the most valuable & beneficial! Your student's are very lucky! Thanks for sharing this wonderful slice. I look forward to hearing how it all turns out!

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