Each week in the series Diary of a First-Year Teacher, an anonymous first-grade teacher will share her confessions, musings, struggles, and successes during the first year of her teaching career in rural Mississippi.
Ever since I started teaching in the Delta, I've wanted to help my students realize the possibility of their dreams and help them grow into responsible and kind citizens.
In the early months especially, I harped on and on about character and their futures. More often than not, I was met with blank stares.
I had students write paragraphs about their dreams, repeatedly told them why we work hard in school, and sought out every character teaching moment. I have sticker charts to track reading growth, we celebrate student growth and grades, and talk frequently about the the end of the year party we'll have if we meet our goals in reading and writing.
Not much changed with my students. Sure they were less likely to disobey the rules, but that had more to do with a fear of an office referral rather than an intrinsic desire to achieve their dreams or be a good person.
It hit me pretty early on that the glowing results I expected from my students were not coming to fruition as I had expected they would. Often discouraged, I continued these practices half-heartedly as it was a key part of being a good teacher.
Finally, in the first week of April, after eight months of school, I heard the values I'd taught them. They began to reveal themselves in their conversations. I overheard my students talking in the lunch line about their reading levels. They were not being competitive, they just were simply discussing where they were and how much they have grown this year. I was flabbergasted.
Then when they sat down at the table, a few of them started to ask me questions about college. Today I asked my students, “Why do we do math each day?” As a chorus they replied, “So we can go to college!” A seven-year-old pragmatist piped in and said, “And because I want to go to second grade.” Aha! I thought. They have been listening.
A few kind words and a peppy assembly are not going to change the course of a child’s life.
It can take a long time to make an impact, even a small impact on students. As a first-year teacher, I grossly underestimated the hours and repetition it would take to teach my students the values I knew they needed to overcome the challenges that face them.
Changing a student's mindset can feel like a simple fix when you're not in the classroom. I certainly thought it was. However, a few kind words and a peppy assembly are not going to change the course of a child’s life. They help, no doubt about that. But to make an impact, to make a lasting change, it takes months of caring a whole awful lot. It takes hard work, even when it’s forced. It’s taken me eight months, and all I've done is lay a simple foundation.
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