It was guided reading time. I was with my second group in the seventy minute block. We’d reviewed segmenting words for three minutes, they’d read the book of the day for eight minutes and there were nine minutes left for the discussion of character feelings.
“How do you think Mom and Dad feel about Baby Frog throwing the garbage out all by himself? That’s the question we are going to think about. What’s the first thing we should do?” I asked.
There were three hands up. Mason was looking out the window. I knocked slightly in front of him to get his attention and repeated the question. Ali, who was sitting next to me, was squirming in her seat. She put her face in my face with a big smile so she could be called first. I reminded her, “Everyone will get a turn.” Ali momentarily pouted but then resumed her best – hands folded, eyes tracking and back straight – to be called on next.
Desiree answered the question. “We should find the picture where Baby Frog is throwing the garbage out and look at his mom and dad’s face and actions to figure out how they are feeling.”
“Very good,” I replied. “Looking at the picture, tell me what the parents are doing and how they feel.” Ali was still sitting at her best but she looked at me with her big eyes. I smiled. “Go ahead Ali.”
“I see that the mom and dad have big smiles and they are watching Baby Frog. On the next page after Baby Frog throws the garbage away, I see that mom and dad are hugging him. That makes me think that his parents love him very much,” Ali said enthusiastically.
“Let’s do a group vote with thumbs up to show agreement.” The three children gave her thumbs up. “Yes, Baby Frog’s parents do love him very much. But today we’re going to build on that to find a better word.”
Ali’s demeanor changed. She slumped in her seat and folded her arms. “Ali,” I said leaning closer to her. “This is a new feeling we’re learning. You tried your very best and I’m proud of you.” I turned to the whole group. “Oops, I gave the answer away! Who knows what proud means?”
Mason raised his hand. “It is when you do something that is very hard. Then you feel proud of yourself.”
“Yes! It is an accomplishment. Like learning to tie your shoes or opening the lunch milk carton all by yourself! When you think ‘I did it!’ that’s when you are proud of yourself. And teachers and parents can feel proud of you too.”
Ali remained sulking but I was against the clock – seven minutes remaining – and five more questions to do. So I was firm with Ali. “You’ll get another chance and you can try again with another question,” I said and moved on.
But it’s not that simple. I know that now having to revisit taking courses to complete my teacher certification.
I stopped being a good student in high school. Sure I was in AP and Honor courses, but I stopped trying in class. I failed to see the relevance of the courses applicable to my life and the deeper the grades sunk without teacher concern the less I cared.
I see it now: my parents were always on my case to do better in school, but I was their daughter not their student. I sat in the back of my classes and wrote and teachers never asked what I wrote or what I did. They taught and enjoyed conversations with the A students.
That’s not the kind of teacher I want to be. Every child has a capability and shouldn’t be measured by expectations. I should given Ali more time to process, but that day when she got a second chance with another question and she didn’t reply, I just moved on. Because I was so focused on teaching, I didn’t even consider what she needed. I should have checked in on her later, to help her understand I believed in her even if she made a mistake, but I didn’t.
She still passed the assessment at the end of year which is dandy, but I’m not proud. So what if she can read if she can’t process her feelings?
I’m about to turn 23 and I still have trouble with that! It’s why I’m here writing instead of doing an assignment. Because after I got 3/5 and a FAIL on an assignment I spent 12 hours doing, the surprise left me bereft of all confidence. Now I’m doubting myself every step of the way in the online math program and I find myself procrastinating. After all, sanity doesn’t let you be fully engaged in something that will hurt you.
Yes, in this case its my pride and self-esteem that are hurt. But I’ve struggled with that all my life. It’s why I became a teacher, so I could help students believe in themselves from the very start. And I forgot that along the way, I was focused on taking cues from my coteacher on how to teach that I overlooked my ability to reach out to kids just like me.
Of course now I know what I can do better my second year teaching. If I stay teaching. What if I don’t pass this math class and my certification never happens? I want to be fifteen and act like I don’t care. But that’s not who I want my students to turn into. For their sake, I need to learn to not give up. If I can win this battle within myself – push past all my doubts and try my best and try again if I fail – then I can instill that value in my students. And that’s the best gift I want to give them.