Throughout my short teaching career so far I’ve had the privilege of knowing a few unique students. Let me introduce you to two: John, for example, is rarely on task except if it involves drawing. He is perpetually staring into space or asking me questions that I have literally just answered for the whole class. Poor John is lost more often than not, but if hand unfortunately this is clearly reflected in his grades. Nathan has been another one of my problem children this year. He is extremely bright which makes it even more sad that he wastes all of his energy causing drama in the classroom.
I have a hunch that life at home for Nathan is quite theatrical. Between his brothers in a gang and single mother ignoring him for her boyfriend of the week, no one can truly blame the child for wanting to feel normal. Nathan’s way to cope is to bring his sense of “normalcy” into school. This makes it hard for other students to work with him always pushing his way into their business. My point in introducing you to these beautiful characters is to show how they changed my identity as a teacher.
One might think that in these situations I may have to take on the mother role and appeal to these kids on the emotional level in order for them to calmly behave every day. Others may advise me to assume the dictator position and outlaw any sort of distraction or failure. Well I have a word for you people: All-stars. Each and every child in my class is an All-star. We win as a team and lose as a team. Establishing this kind of environment motivates everyone. Kids really do support and encourage each other so we can all reap the benefits.
Should a member of the team become off-task, their peers actually have incentive to help him or her focus and do well. If someone becomes benched for whatever reason, the whole team has failed and will most likely walk laps for recess. Now everyone tries extra hard to stay in the game. I’ve noticed an extraordinary amount of respect and helpfulness among my fifth-graders. I can only attribute it to the environment that my cooperating teacher has nurtured from the very first day. Don’t get me wrong, there have been several times when our team lost the game.
But the All-star spirit always returns to get everyone focused and back on the field. Before being placed with the All-stars this year, I was nervous and confused with pedagogy, child development theories, and overall horror stories. I was absolutely convinced that teaching is the hardest job in the world and scared that I might not cut it. The first part I still believe to be true, but now I know a lot more about how to lead a classroom to success. Teamwork as a class and school-wide discipline allows everyone to help each other. The weight is off me to keep everybody afloat and responsibility is balanced.
Above all, working together is a skill that determines a person’s success for the duration of their lives. John and Nathan still have their days of utter self-destruction, but I have noticed vast amounts of improvement in both of them throughout the year. They know that the whole team feels ramifications from their actions and are inherently motivated to do well. This class has shown me the importance of establishing a loving environment and community of learners in my future classrooms. I am more confident because of them, and that is my story of becoming a teacher.