Once again I had the privilege of listening to students read their own writing. This time I was at a small elementary school in Mechosin with students in grades six and seven. Gosh those kids had some great adventures to write about. One girl wrote about watching a pod of Orcas swimming in a bay, another wrote about exploring a cave in her own back yard, and a boy in the class wrote about the coloured lights he saw when he went with his family to Las Vegas. It reminded me that adventures come in all kinds of guises.
Each adventure is a bit like looking through a doorway into something unknown.
Just another day in the classroom.
All the students were chatting while the student who was going to present next stepped out to fix something about his presentation. One student asked me “Can I show the class something on the computer.”
“Is it suitable for a classroom?” I asked.
“It’s suitable,” he said, so I agreed. He then went and downloaded his emails and showed the class an email I had written to him in which I had made a mistake. Aren’t you happy you’re paying $450 for this English class he asked?
How did I react? I’m proud to say I laughed. I learned a long time ago that a. I am not perfect, and b. it’s always best not to get defensive in the classroom. But inside, ouch, that hurt. Sure I make mistakes, but to have it flaunted in front of the class was less than pleasant.
So what did I learn from this little episode? Several things actually.
1. Never say yes when a student asks to show something un-vetted to the class. That never ends well for me.
2. Never single out students in public when they make mistakes. There are lots of ways to tell someone they haven’t got things quite right without pointing to them and saying “wrong”. When a student doesn’t give me the answer I’m looking for when I ask a question, I say things like, “Can anyone else think of something to add to that?” or “I wonder if we can look at this another way,” or some other gentle steering in a different direction. Having my own mistakes pointed out to the class confirmed me in the belief that singling out people who make mistakes is just cruel.
3. Students have all kinds of needs in a classroom, some of which have to do with power. It’s best not to indulge those.
4. Students often forget that teachers are human too. Somehow many students think that teachers are immune to usual, everyday humiliations or triumphs. It’s open season on teachers if you’re not careful. Be mindful of that (I remind myself).
5. Thick skin is a must when teaching as when writing. You can only control so much, so if you’re going to put yourself out there by writing or teaching, be prepared to take the consequences. As my friend Joanne says, be like a duck and let it run off your back.
So that was my day in the classroom. Then I came home and found a rat dying in my compost. Not the best day ever!