A mentor of mine, Jason Steliga, advised me at the start of my second year of teaching that I needed to know what I wanted to teach the kids, not so much in terms of content but in terms of the bigger life lessons. That year, I came up with organization and two others that I don't remember. Clearly they were significant.* Each year after that, I've tried to think more about the bigger things that I want to teach; the things that my kids will (hopefully) remember when they think about our classroom as adults.
One of those goals that I've decided to focus on is empathy/kindness/respect. History is all about stories. Those stories are often about people who look and think and act and pray differently than you do. If you are unable to practice empathetic thought, you're more likely to dismiss the other as dangerous, savage, uncivilized or whatever other negative connotation you can come up. This ability to empathize is especially important for teens as they are learning how to think about the world around them. I believe that these lessons in empathy are more important than any lesson about the French Revolution.
One of the side effects of having a kid is that I never got around to taking the time to sit down and think about specific goals for the year. I knew that empathy was one and I knew that organization was one. But I did not take the time to think through how I would weave those themes into my lessons throughout the year. It's something I've done each year since Jason talked to me, but not this year.
When I think about the six groups of kids that I have, it's pretty hit and miss when it comes to the progress that we've made as a group. Four of my classes have been incredible. The kids are active and participate. They like each other and, with some small exceptions, are kind and respectful of each other. But the other two are decidedly not successful when it comes to empathetic thoughts and actions. There are regular incidents where kids are rude towards each other.
I handle the situations as they arise. I've called more parents in these two classes combined than I have in the other four in an effort to adjust behavior. I've started implementing elementary-level behavior plans for specific students who really struggle.
More than anything else, though, when I think about these two classes I think about the amount of time that I feel that I struggle with them. I can feel the frustration well up inside of me just thinking about it. I know in my heart of hearts that these two classes need my love and time and understanding, as well as my discipline and my sternness. It is the ultimate balancing act, which I know that I have failed for the first four months of the school year.
And that's why I needed the break. I need to be ready to start fresh with these classes because I know that my tone effects their attitudes. Towards the end of the year, those two classes knew that I was frustrated with them as a group and this affected how they behaved. It was a classic lesson in how the expectations of the teacher effect the real behavior of the students. Students who are expected to misbehave, will, more often than not, misbehave! Students who are expected to excel will likewise often excel!
|A Chanel and Shanell sandwich selfie!|
I love to teach. I get taken away from teaching in my classroom through things that I cannot control (standardized testing, students' emotional needs, etc...) but often when I get away from truly teaching is when I get emotionally overwhelmed. To really teach a topic, you have to love the topic and you have to love the student. You can get by without loving one of those two, but it won't be teaching at its best.
Often during my breaks, I will recharge on both of those. I listen to a lot of NPR, which I would do about 15 hours a day if I had the choice. I read a lot of TIME Magazine and Politico articles and peruse the web for different things related to what's happening in ours and other governments. I have awesome friends on Facebook who link fun historical stuff to me all the time. I am able to fall back in love with the topics that I teach in class.
And probably more importantly, I'm able to fall back in love in with my students. I am able to remember the wonderful things that they do that get lost in the sludge. I get a chance to look through my Twitter and Instagram feeds and remember the wonderful pictures I've taken with and of my kids. The classes that have been frustrating - I get a chance to reflect on why with a little less passion and a little more logic. The student that I've wanted to scream at - I am able to think more clearly about how to get that student involved in the learning in my classroom so that they don't hate every minute that they are in my room.
|One of my government classes during finals week, trying to decompress the stress!|
|I had the pleasure of traveling with the Center Youth in Government Delegation to Jefferson City again this year.|
With all that in mind, here are my three goals for this semester:
1. Don't get angry or yell at a student. Once.
2. Involve organization in the lesson every single day.
3. Continue to teach empathy and compassion. Continue growing with the four classes that are going well and win over the two classes that are not.
4. Work with every 9th grader to write a coherent, logical, strong argumentative essay.*
I'll come back to this post in May and see how I did!
What are your goals for the Spring?
Thanks for reading this blog! I hope you'll consider taking a moment to comment below and turn this into a conversation. Whether you are an educator or not, we have all had common experiences with education both good and bad. I want to hear what you think!
About Me:My name is Alec Chambers. I am a high school history and government teacher at a small, urban public school in Kansas City called Center High School. We regularly kick tail. Among many awards, we were named a National Blue Ribbon School in 2014. I don't just teach at Center- I also graduated from Center in 2006 after attending Center Schools K-12. I have a degree in Political Science, a second degree in International Relations, a third degree in Education and a Master's of Arts in Teaching. I have an unofficial degree is soccer. All of those degrees have led me to the high-paying teaching profession! I have a newborn daughter and am married to the most awesome woman on the planet. Seriously. It's a proven fact.
Follow me on Twitter
Follow me on Google