All summer, I have been organizing and decluttering my house. My productivity was paused briefly by this lovely blast from the past. It is a project from 8th grade English class. We were given half a poster board and some rough guidelines. I'm not sure if it served much of a purpose other than to ease us into writing and let us learn a little about our classmates.
At first glance, I thought, "What a great pic for Throwback Thursday on Facebook!" But, as I kept reading the words I had written as a student nearly twenty years ago, I kept thinking about my current students and my role as an educator.
How My 8th Grade English Project Made Me A Better Teacher
1) Student Goals: The Difference Between Setting Goals and Achieving Goals
My proudest moment of the previous school year was the success of the quick recall team, making it to the state level competition for the first time in school history. Even though I wasn't a star on the team and only played for a few minutes in scrimmages, I was proud to be a part of the team.
I set my goal for the current school year "become very successful on the academic team". But, I never became the quick recall champion. I used the excuse that I was too shy and not fast enough on the buzzers. A teacher asked me to set a goal, but that goal meant nothing unless there was a plan to achieve it. My high school band director, Mr. Parker, asked us to write a few specific goals at the beginning of the marching season. He taped them on the wall in the back of the band room to remind us what we were working for. Most of those goals were achieved because they were short-term goals and we were reminded of them often.
I chose a quote by President John F. Kennedy--"Never settle for second when first is available." I find this very ironic considering how I abandoned my goal to become a quick recall star. I had the desire to be the best on the team but I had no plan to achieve that goal.
Do you ask your students to set goals? If you do, don't forget to ask them how they will reach that goal and offer support along the way!
2) Lesson Goals: Some Of the Most Important Lessons Will Not Have a Core-Content Number
I chose my grandmother as the most influential figure in my life. I further explained, "She taught me to do the right thing and to learn from my mistakes, not grieve over them." This seems like a simple lesson that everyone learns at home. But, teachers must assume the role of positive adult figure and often offer guidance and support beyond our job description. Sometimes we must abandon the learning objective written in our lesson plans and take the opportunity to guide students through a life lesson.
In my room, we learn about respect for peers, respect for authority figures, respect for property, and self-respect. Through teamwork and cooperation, we learn about community and compromise. We learn about acceptance, embracing differences in abilities, cultures, beliefs, and traditions. These are the lessons that can never be measured on a standardized test. But, these are also the lessons that students will remember for years to come, long after the learning objectives (and, perhaps, even my name and face) are forgotten. This poster reminded me that all teachers should share one common goal--"To help our students become better humans."
3) Long-Term Goal: Find Happiness
As an 8th grader, I was only 12 years old. I was asked to imagine my life ten years in the future. I thought I would be in Harvard getting a law degree, but that is far from reality. I don't even remember being interested in law. It was probably just an answer I thought others would want to hear. This vision was far from my actual path. In August 2005, I was not sitting in a Harvard classroom. I was sitting in an elementary classroom beginning my first year as a music teacher.
There is a trending buzz word in the education field to prepare students to be Career/College Ready. Elementary teachers are pressured to get students thinking about their future--a future they simply cannot grasp. When we ask children to envision their future, we need to make sure they aren't pressured to give us answers they think we want to hear. Encourage them to answer honestly so they will find happiness in their career path.
I can say, now, that I am certain I was put on this earth to teach elementary music. Music is my passion. In 1995, I was beginning my 3rd year in band. Music was more of a hobby instead of a passion. I was a mediocre trumpet player sitting comfortably in the middle of the section playing a 2nd trumpet part. But, there were other clues that music important in my life.
In my spare time, I enjoyed listening to music. My favorite album around that age was Mariah Carey's Music Box (Yes, that is a hand-drawn cassette tape!) My passion for music grew more each year and began challenging myself to improve my trumpet skills. By senior year, I knew I wanted to teach music. I was very fortunate to have the support to pursue a career in a field that gives me true happiness. I hope that all my students can be guided to find their own happiness in life.
Thank you for letting me reflect on the past. This was a great opportunity to reexamine my teaching philosophy and provide some perspective as I start fresh with a new school year. Our first day with kids is August 6th. Happy Back-To-School, everyone!