The daughter of time

In this post I described how, last spring, I got up to make an announcement at SA assembly, to a warm greeting from the students.  The idea, mentioned in that post, that time makes a big difference to one’s reputation in a school, is occurring to me more and more often this week, as we settle into the new facilities and I find myself chatting with students I haven’t seen in a while.  The ninth-graders are on their class retreat, too, which happens sooner after the beginning of classes because of the late start, so during the periods in which my ninth-grade classes are not meeting, I’m subbing for junior and senior classes of my colleagues who are chaperoning the trip.  This year, I know almost all the students in those classes, and subbing is just such a different (and much pleasanter) experience than when I barely knew any of them.

Then, too, I think I have gotten to be a much better, cannier teacher of teenagers than I was when I first arrived.  I’m still on the looser side, can be too fuzzy about my expectations or unwilling to crack down on iffy behavior, but I’m far better at sizing up situations and knowing how to handle them.  Today, for example, I told the students I had right before lunch that they could have three minutes at the beginning of the period to wrap up their most urgent conversations, after which we would settle down to the work of the period.  They knew the work itself wasn’t super urgent–watch a video and take notes on a worksheet–and I knew that giving them time to finish up their gossiping and test postmortems and whatever else they were buzzing about would result in a) better focus on what the absent teacher had left them and b) much less hesitation on my part about cracking down on anyone talking during the video. In fact, when a little whispering broke out at one point, one of the boys said mock-sternly, “You guys, we already had time to wrap up our conversations,” and the whisperers said, “Sorry!” and stopped.

I don’t think that would have been a useful tactic in any college class I ever taught, and I don’t do it often at SA, but every once in a while, I know they need a little extra help making the transition to the start of class, and sometimes I do this.  (Sometimes I ask them to do some quiet thinking and reflection on their own; sometimes I start with a writing prompt on the board and journals on their desks.)  I am glad I have the confidence to do something like this, and it makes me very happy to get the results I want when I do it.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. This morning my sophomores and I spent the last few minutes of break, and then continued into the first three or four minutes of class, talking about the school tradition of the night before that had revolved around them and their fellow sophomores. There was a voice at the back of my head saying, “It’s important to set high standards at the beginning of the year; get right to work!” But I ignored that voice in favor of the one that said, “They experienced something really big in their lives last night; check in with them about it, find out a little about how it went, and this will reinforce the sense of community we’re building and will actually allow better learning to happen over the course of the year.” So I went with that second voice. Besides, it was fun to hear about their experiences!

    Reply

  2. Posted by Anonymous on September 25, 2011 at 2:45 pm

    Sounds like the right decision! I often find myself mediating between those two voices. I should ask some of my colleagues whether they have the same internal dialogue; I always think that the ones who’ve never taught anywhere else are acting out of a reliable instinct, but they may be uncertain, too…

    Reply

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