Friday, August 19, 2016

Other People's Grandchildren

Grandma super power: falling in love with a tiny stranger.

I fell in love twice this week: first with my newborn grandchild and then with my students.

These loves are not unrelated. Each of those students was once someone’s newborn grandchild, and I hope that 15 or so years from now, Zion has a really good English teacher who knows how special he is. I need to be that, as best I can, for these students now. (My daughter suggested I could write a new book, Other People’s Grandchildren.)

A student inventory is a brilliant shortcut to coming to the kind of understanding that grows love for other peoples (grand)children. (See this link for Jennifer Gonzalez’s “4-Part System for Getting to Know Your Students”—which I used a lot of for my first day.) I was surprised by how many of my students have part time jobs. I learned that some of them know exactly where they want to go to college and what they want to study, and some are getting nervous that they have no idea. I learned some of their favorite foods, books, and TV shows (one even shares an affinity for The Great British Bakeoff!)

But the student comments that got me really energized for teaching these individuals were the answers to the last 2 questions: 

“What things should I do as your teacher to help you do well this year?
  • Recommend good books
  • Encourage us and ask us for advice 
  • Feedback
  • Help us gain more knowledge on things we may believe we already know

“What else should I know about you?”
  • I usually try my best in my classes 
  • I want to be a better writer
  • I like reading more than before

What English teacher could resist?

So what have I done with my summer’s learning so far to become the best teacher I can be for these guys this year? I’ve remembered to use this line when I started talking too much: “I’m going to stop talking now because when I’m doing the talking, I’m doing the thinking and the learning, and I want you to be doing the thinking and the learning.”

And I’m forging ahead with the experiment of using Goodreads as a real-world forum for reporting on summer reading, building a “to-read” list, and joining a reading community. There were some frustrations with figuring out the site. (With all the buzz about digital natives, I keep being surprised that there are adolescents who are less comfortable with technology than I am.) But when I offered one of my classes the option of returning to teacher-oriented paper tasks, they seemed tentatively interested in staying with Goodreads.

One final word to any other introvert teachers out there: starting a new year and meeting new students is still hard for me. (And I’m a grandma now, so that’s a lot of stressful first days of school survived.) But I’ve never had a year where I didn’t end up falling in love with them and wanting to be the best teacher I can for someone else’s kids, and now for someone else’s grandkids.

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