Friday, March 8, 2013

Cruel to Be Kind

Last post wasn't very cheery, was it?
But it was real.

A large part of my angst was training a novice teacher. All kinds of ego and fear were in the picture, because he wanted to design his own lessons and he was going to take over two classes full of my giant thirteen year old babies.

"You do realize that teaching is three huge jobs at once--presenting, planning, and class management, any one of which can be really challenging..." I really thought it might be best to use my already designed standards-based lessons, not because I thought they were good (which I do), but because I wondered about his ability to do the other two. Truth be told, he is physically a bit awkward and his enunciation is mushy; when he shared that he'd 1) been bullied in high school 2) overcome a speech impediment and 3) had had an IEP, I believed him. Colleagues would ask me, "How's he doing?" with the small, knowing smile of one who already knows the answer; they thought he'd be lunch meat.

Here's the surprise: he generally connected well with the kids. He was able early on to think on his feet, to persevere, to press on--wow, stuff that you can't teach--impressive. Granted, he was blessed with the best behaved kids I have ever taught IN MY CAREER, and they were already trained when he took them. But their awesomeness built his confidence on the management front.  Presentation-wise, he was pretty good, sometimes even funny, and his mushy diction didn't seem to pose problems for anyone but me. His incessant football references helped him with some students (although they seemed to alienate others, truthfully).

His lessons? Hmm. That was another story. I worried about how he never. ever. wrote anything down. He shared with me that he responded well to encouragement. Uh, oh. I feel weird about high five-ing grown ups, and in the beginning I wasn't sure I should even be encouraging. I was (and remain) freaked out by the atrociousness of his spelling and grammar ("mils" for "mills," for example). I was concerned about his lack of, or over simplified reflections about how the class had gone. His class management? The typical problems of wanting to win the approval of "the cool kids," of needing them to like him, of passing over the quiet children.

Real conversation snippet: Me: "So what went well today?" Him: "It was AWESOME!"


So last Friday after something bad happened because he didn't write it down, I sort of turned into the calm, icy surgeon and let the scalpel fly a bit. "You don't read much, do you? You don't like to read. [I had tons of evidence]. It shows in your lessons. You don't want to admit to the kids you don't know something,  I understand, but you can't just make things up. You can't get up there and teach something you don't know about. You need to research the time period you are teaching, dig deeper than the text--read a ton!!-- make sure what you are teaching helps them understand, look at your presentation through the eyes of a thirteen year old. You need to rehearse your lessons, anticipate what they won't get, how they'll respond, blah blah blah...." It wasn't a monologue. But it sure wasn't the "Good for you! You are trying so hard" lines that tone-deaf grandmas give their American Idol wannabe offspring.

And I thought, "He hates me and thinks I'm mean." I'm not really used to being hated, and I'm not mean.

Funny thing is, he TOTALLY brought it this week! His lessons had depth, and so did his understanding. When kids asked questions, he fielded them with soft hands himself, or he said, "Hm, I'm not sure, Miss M do you know?" and let me either field them or shrug my shoulders with him. While teaching them about Sequoya, he even googled how to say "Hello" in Cherokee* and had a mini language lesson.

I gave him a high five after class. He earned it.

And then after school I began speaking in football terms: "I would think you'd want to review your performance--don't coaches watch films of games in order to improve and anticipate, to praise and refine? When I ask you how something goes--" He smiled and interrupted, totally understanding what this elderly lady twice his age was doing, but actually and finally COMPREHENDING the urgency, the importance of what I expected him to do to improve: "You don't want to know the score, you wanted to know the big plays," he said. "No, I want to go even deeper than that: I want to know why you called those big plays, how you were able to execute them, and why you went to no-huddle when the players were obviously lost and there was no audible..." 

Anyway, that seemed to change the air, clear it, charge it. Why can people take constructive criticism from coaches but not others? Coaches can literally YELL at kids and it's no big deal, and kids get out there and work for the coaches' curt nod of approval. I would gently say, "Can you think of another way to get S. to participate?" to a grown man and he'd cross his arms and look injured and depressed.

At any rate, I am finally relaxing. He will not mess up my giant babies. He will be a better teacher over time, he is doing quite well for how early on in the semester, he is grading 40% of the papers, and I will be able to do much of my grading at school, thus freeing up my weekends. Win-win. Or as he would put it, "AWESOME!"