Friday, October 27, 2017

Challenge Accepted

Every year, I start my first day in class with a challenge. The students think that it is simply introductions. I then tell them that I am setting a goal in which I will strive all year to achieve. I ask them to tell me the following three things:

*Their name
*How they feel about ELA (Trust me, I can take it!)
*Something interesting about themselves. 

The first and third ARE simply for getting to better know my students at the beginning. It is the second that is very important to me.  Most of the time, because I open the door for them to be COMPLETELY honest, they usually unleash their true feelings complete with many repetitions of the H word (H...A...T...E...) It could be that they strongly dislike reading or writing. Maybe they have strong feelings about both, either way most seem to take joy in telling me their true thoughts. I pull dramatics, put my hand over my heart, but then smile and say "Challenge Accepted"
This sometimes throws them off, but I explain that whatever their feelings about this subject in the past, I am determined to create an environment where they will find one section or activity that they enjoyed.
This year progressed in the usual way. I "unleashed" my unique take on teaching English complete with "Rapping on the Roof," brain-breaks, a gamified classroom, and my new elements such as a student center (Thanks @JoyKirr). It was going well and the smiles on faces let me know I was doing my job and getting closer to the "challenge" goal.

It was at the start of our first novel that the students managed to throw me off my game a little, which doesn't happen very often. At the end of one of my classes that day, a student walked up to me and said
"Mrs. Ledford, you win" 
I just stood there for a moment before responding with a simple "What?"
"You win! I love this book and I think I will give reading another chance!"
While I was thrilled by this statement and went home that night feeling like a giddy child, I begin to ponder more and truly wondered:
What am I doing that is SO different? 
 I teach the same type of concepts I remember being covered when I was in school. I cover the same type of standards as other teachers. I dove into thought, not to brag or become full of myself, but to truly find the secret so I was sure not to ever change that element of my classroom EVER!

*Is it because I implement these new concepts and change myself year after year?... Maybe but I had this passion and change in my students before I implemented them.

*Is it the novels I use in my curriculum?... Maybe, but there was a similar impact when I taught other novels.

My many thoughts took me back to a college class with one of my favorite professors. No matter what the literature topic, even if I didn't really care for the book when I read it alone in my dorm room, she managed to draw me in.  What did she do?
The answer was actually quite simple. It was her passion. The minute she talked about a work, she lit up and you could just feel her passion.
I remember fighting with myself throughout my first year of teaching. Part of me wanted to be my silly self and truly unleash that passion locked inside me. The other was holding back, fear of losing control and having this "passion" affect my ability to manage a classroom, which with my stature was always something I felt I had to prove. Through my eight years, I have realized that it is my passionate, silly side that really seems to connect with students.
Today when you enter my classroom, not only will you see students at the teacher's desk and on flexible seating, you will most likely see a teacher who is speaking gibberish, playing with a scarf around her head, or is randomly in costume during a lesson.

Now I am still not sure if this is why I seem to have so much success in the ELA challenge with myself, yet thinking back on it, I am very proud of the teacher I have evolved into. I hope that underneath all of the methods and elements I may try in my teaching, is a passion for my teaching and my content that with ignite even the stubborn learner's heart!