Teaching Is Starting To Be Fun Again. Finally.

Alexej von Jawlensky. Abstract Head, c.
Image via Wikipedia

I’ve spend most of my teaching career trying to push, pull, and otherwise motivate students who have failed so often that they have all but given up on the idea of school.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think that giving up on school is always a bad thing, just that there are sometimes better reasons for giving up than others and believing that you can’t learn is not one of the good ones.

When people who don’t teach find out what I do for a living they sometimes look at me with incredulity or awe, both reactions based on the assumption that I daily look chaos and mayhem in the eye and manage not to blink.

Anyone who teaches middle school – whether or not they teach inner-city special education students – knows that what I do is nothing special. All teachers face down chaos and mayhem.

But that’s enough about dealing with the inanities of local school boards and state education departments. I want to talk about students, the ones I don’t mention much but who provide most of the fun I have at work four days a week.

I work five days, but I don’t see my 6th grade general education social studies class on Mondays.

This class is very different from any other group of students I’ve taught. They are eager, driven to learn and they’re driving me to become a better teacher.

On the NY State and City exams you get scored from 1 to 4, four being the high score. Most of the students I’ve taught have been ones and twos, with the occasional low three thrown in. These kids are all mid-to-high threes with some fours thrown in.

When I ask questions these kids have answers. Even better, they have questions. Real questions, not just ones about how long a written assignment need be to meet muster.

What I enjoy most about these students is their willingness to speculate, to take the risk of hazarding an answer when you don’t know for sure if what you’re going to say is the right answer.

They even understand that most of the questions worth asking don’t necessarily have right answers.

At those too frequent times when I have to fiddle with the technology and I’m used to having things fly around the room, these kids toss around concepts and discuss books they’re reading.

I have had to totally relearn how to teach.

Instead of breaking things down into small, easily handled chunks I now have to come up with bigger ideas. I have to break my habit of trying to make everything concrete and learn to introduce more abstractions.

Last May, when my principal told me I’d be teaching general ed classes this year I was not happy with the idea.

He said I’d enjoy it.

I’m starting to.

Very much.

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6 Responses to Teaching Is Starting To Be Fun Again. Finally.

  1. Hadass Eviatar says:

    Such a pleasure to read!

  2. Glenn Kenyon says:

    You know, I follow you with particular interest. I am currently teaching a general ed math methods course to a group of people working on special ed. credential. The course is designed to show them what general ed. does. They are often frustrated because they feel themselves to be special ed. specialist, exclusively (specialist, maybe, exclusive, why?). I tell them that two of my most influential teaching partners both had their special ed. credential, but ended up teaching general ed classes, using their expertise to bring in more diverse teaching methods and maintstreaming opportunities.

    They look at me blankly.

    • Deven Black says:

      I would have looked at you blankly, too, even though I was pursuing dual certification in general and special education. And as much as I’m enjoying this group of students, I want to go back to teaching special education next year. I used to think that special ed was hard because of the paperwork requirements until I discovered that the paperwork is almost as massive in general ed and I have three times as many students.

  3. Michael J says:

    What a nice way to start a Sunday morning. Congrats.

  4. Yay!

    I’m so happy that you found joy in the classroom. I’ve been thinking about you a lot and hoping that I would read something like this soon.

    I, too, am teaching a higher-level group of students this year and it has been joyous to hear them read and watch them write stories and listen to their insightful interpretations of books that we read.

    And these kids are in 2nd grade!

    On a side note, I think that Glenn’s experience with Special Ed certified teachers teaching in General Ed classrooms is not uncommon. Many of my students are struggling with learning disabilities that have not been officially identified and as a result, they receive no services other than the differentiated instruction I can (attempt) to give them.

    You have so many exciting opportunities and avenues for success ahead of you with this group. I wish you the best and again, I’m so happy for you!

    • Deven Black says:

      Thank you, Mary Beth. Because we teach similar populations I know that you understand what I try to portray here. I deeply appreciate the encouragement and assistance you’ve given me during the past year via Twitter and I very much look forward to meeting you at Educon in January.

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