The Learning Curve

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Sep 11 2011

“Because we have important things to do. Because we have to grow 2 years in just one. Because my time matters.”

This week my Proudest Mama moment came when I casually asked my students why I time absolutely everything we do in class, including our bathroom and water breaks and game times and how long it takes to turn things in. I didn’t have a plan to ask this, I just wanted to make sure they knew it wasn’t because I’m a crazy lady (or at least, not exclusive to that) but for a reason. Several students raised their hands.

The first one I called on: “Because we have important stuff to do and we need a lot of time to get it done.”

The second one: “Because we only have one year to grow almost two years and it takes a lot of time to learn two years of stuff so we can’t be messin’ around.”

The third one: “Because our time matters.”

No one could have said it more astutely than those kids. It was pretty much the most I could’ve ever asked for – they incorporated our class goals (to grow at least 1.8 years, which they know is almost 2 years even though they don’t know decimals, in math and science knowledge) and they articulated a sense of responsibility in their own learning. Even if they don’t really understand yet why I want so badly for them to grow two years (they can say the words: “so that we can be on a 4th grade level before 4th grade, so that if we forget stuff over the summer we’ll still be ready,” but they don’t really get it yet… I’m working on it) they are able to tell me, which is the first step. They are able to see why I make such a big deal out of saving time on everything and time literally everything from our walk to the classroom at the beginning of the day to our pack up time at the end.

At the beginning, they just saw it in terms of points. We have a 10 for 10 policy in class: If they take a class bathroom and water breakĀ  in 10 minutes or less, they get 10 points (plus extra for compliments from teachers and administrators, minus for corrections from teachers and administrators) toward their class goal.

I’m introducing a 5 for 5 to encourage a 5 minute pack up time at the end of the day. I time everything while I’m planning so that my class timekeeper can set times for everything we do in the course of the day. It’s not a perfected system yet, but it’s going so much better than the beginning of the year. They love having something to depend on, even if it doesn’t happen at the same time every day. They know how much time they have for most things, and when they aren’t told, they ask. I’m starting to notice it in the way they behave outside of class, too. My Line Leader and Line Manager (front and caboose of the line) are in charge of making sure our line is presentable before we can leave anywhere. One of the Line Managers is a boy who loves to cut up in class for attention, no matter positive or negative, so I decided that he could be Line Manager because he LOVES telling other people what they should be doing. [Don't worry, I did a training session for everyone related to their job so they'd know the appropriate vs. inappropriate ways to correct others.] On Friday some others were messing around in line and I overheard him whisper to two kids, “Y’all gotta act right, we got things to do. Face front so we can get back to class.” Hearing an 8 year old say something like that and then knock his weekly test out of the park not ten minutes later is really, really restorative for me as a teacher. Things in my classroom are FAR from perfect right now but these little things – getting them invested in the hugeness of our goal – are becoming the big buoys that are keeping me afloat.

One Response

  1. sp

    you’re the one person i know who i’m absolutely convinced could do this job well. you can do this; you are doing this; you are a competent, capable, and inspiring teacher.

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