Goodness Gracious! It has been a full month and I have not posted anything! Sorry! That being said, many activities and games have happened in the class, and the first term of the school year, out of four, is coming to a close. It’s crazy to think how quickly time flies! Has it really already been 3 months? These past three months I have learned a lot about myself as a teacher and as a person. As I reflect on my first 3 months of teaching as well as living in another country, I think about five very important lessons I have learned and am continually relearning the more time I spend teaching.
Lesson 1: Teaching 100 students is a different beast than teaching 30 students.
If there’s something that I love, it’s getting to know every single student in the school, but I do miss having one grade of students to invest in and love. The positive side of teaching a wider range of students is that I feel that every student in the school is mine. I love having the opportunity to see every student’s high and low moments. I get to experience very different classroom environments every 40 minutes. For example, my third grade class loves competition. They try so hard in both Music and PE to just beat the other team in relay races and review games. That class is a well-oiled machine. They responded very well to the added structure. My 4th grade class is a different animal altogether. They are a class with such passion and sass, which keeps me on my toes. This class does not respond as well to structure, but they love having a good time. They love it when I joke with them and laugh with them. While the classes are only one year apart in their schooling, they are very different students. I love having the opportunity to develop different teaching personas that suit the needs of each class! Its keeps my school days fresh.
Lesson 2: Patience is key.
Having patience, especially with these students, is what will either make or break a day. There are several factors contributing to this, but a big one is the language proficiency level. While some students have been taking English classes for two years, there are students who have never taken an English class until coming to our school this year. There is a major language gap between the beginning speakers and the intermediate speakers, so I design my lessons to cater to many levels of English proficiency. Implementing these lessons requires a lot of patience and repetition in order for students to achieve the “lightbulb moment.”
Lesson 3: Student background will affect their classroom behavior.
This was something I learned while at Pepperdine, but didn’t come to life until I came to Guatemala. The methods you would use to comfort a child who comes from a loving household with involved parents would not necessarily translate to with a child who may have been abused or neglected by their parents. For example, I will not send a child to timeout if they have experienced parental abandonment. While I will send them out of the classroom, I’ll make sure an adult is with the individual to comfort him or her. The same goes for one of my students who has ADHD. Sometimes he or she just needs some space to calm down. Stepping out of the classroom for five minutes with an adult where distractions will not be an issue is better for long term learning. I have found that after he has calmed down and is ready to return, he is much more receptive to content.
Lesson 4: The Student-Teacher relationship is what drives learning.
This ties closely to Lesson 3. The way I handle situations of disruption or discipline, or other positive aspects of the classroom like a passing test score or having a “lightbulb moment”, will affect the relationship I have with the student. I have found that when the relationship between the student and the teacher is severed, the student will not be open to learn. They may be able to pass the test, but they will not process and fully learn the topic. This is the constant challenge with my 4th grade class. We have great days when positive relationships are built, participation is high, and students succeed at the given activity. But the next day the mood of the class may have shifted. If I am not careful, I can damage a great learning relationship with the student, and then we take 3 steps backwards after taking a step forward.
Lesson 5: Invest in yourself.
Now this is a lesson that my Dad has been trying to teach me for ages. The lesson didn’t really “click” until I started to teach myself to play guitar this year. If I had not started to teach myself the instrument, my music classes would look drastically different. I spend half of my music classes teaching basic, child-friendly theory and the other half of the class teaching different songs and singing with the kids. I found that my students love to sing and the fact that I can now play means they have more opportunities to learn new songs across different genres.
Looking forward, Final Thoughts.
Overall, this first quarter of the year has already been a growing experience both personally and in my professional development as a teacher. I am ready for the second quarter and excited to start the recorders with the kids as well as a school wide Olympics later in the Bimester. It should be a blast to teach an instrument to these students. Be prepared to read about more video game songs and classical composers.