Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A High Octane Year

It’s June and in June, it feels only natural to reflect.  In my travels from school to school, I have participated in many end-of-year conversations. I have laughed about Dylan, who talked incessantly during read aloud and about Gia, who refused to write a word in her notebook until January.  In thinking back, my colleagues and I have celebrated our triumphs and lamented our failings and wondered out loud if students mull the year over in the same way we do.  We quickly dismissed that notion as highly unlikely but after an insightful late afternoon stroll with my ten year old son, I learned that student reflection may well happen more often than we think. 

As Matthew and I walked, he began to talk about his school year.  This is his last year of elementary school and he was feeling nostalgic and sad that this chapter is coming to a close.  As he reminisced, he turned to me and said, “I wish this year had been better.  I was really on the wrong track for awhile.”

I listened intently as he told his version of a tough September, October, and November.  Those months were characterized by a blasé attitude and a commitment to doing the bare minimum.  School was very low on my son’s priority list and by mid-year, the problem had worsened to the point that my husband, my son’s teacher, the school principal, and I decided that it was time to intervene.  We formed a united front and devised a plan dedicated to rekindling Matthew’s  passion for learning. 

We knew that getting Matthew back on track would require regrouping, reorganizing, and something to pique his interest enough to motivate him to crave learning. Our plan was vast and intense--it included a new notebook system, a new reading log, some one-on-one learning time, and an independent study project. At the time, it felt like a leap of faith, but as it turns out, it was exactly what Matthew needed.

On this late afternoon stroll, Matthew thought hard about all that had transpired and revealed this, “You know, mom, I realized this year, I’m kind of like a car.  If you don’t give a car the right fuel, it won’t go.  I think I was getting the wrong fuel at the beginning of the year.  I needed my Lego stop motion project to make me interested in school again.  It helped a lot that my teacher took time to help me get organized on Tuesday mornings.  The second half of the year was way better than the first.”

He took his analogy further and went on to say that he wished that other kids could be “refueled” the same way he was. He thought that one boy in his class needed “technology” fuel and would behave better and do better in school if he had more opportunities to respond via a computer or ipad.  As he chatted, I took intent mental notes of his insights and thought hard about this idea of “learning fuel.” 

As teachers, we don’t get to pick our students.  Some struggle.  Some don’t care.  Some care but feel like their efforts are futile.  Some work hard.  Some work hard…most of the time.  Some do it perfectly.  Some never seem to get it right.  In spite of the “ya never know what you’re gonna get,” nature of our business, as teachers, we can know what we’re going to give: learning fuel.  Some need regular, some need high octane, some need diesel.  Fill the tank right and they’re all gonna go…and some might even sit around in June and say, “Thank you teacher, I had a great year.”

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