Shifting Frustrations

WOW!  I had a busy week last week attending two conferences (VASCD and VSTE) and working with a student who presented at a UVA mini-summit on children’s engineering. Learned lots, have a ton to think about, but wanted to share my story about my substitute in the context of trying to teach differently and help my students learn differently.

So I left my gifted students lesson plans on their wiki. I often do this in class and so they are used to it, and very self-directed with it.  I left sub plans that said each day they would have the same routine–two kids go get 4 laptops for 12 kids, they split into groups of three and work through the math tutorials on the designated pages listed here:  Crozet 5th Math 0910.

I had also carefully designed a growing dependence on doing it online, that you can see in the plans. I felt pretty good about leaving my kids doing this–they were studying content they needed some review on, but could also handle independently in groups.  I had set up the routine so they were doing activities familiar to them, and the sub had little to do. In fact I said in my plans, “You will simply have to monitor that they stay on task.” I left her NO teaching, NO homework, NO grading, just behavior monitoring of  HIGHLY motivated, well-behaved kids.

The sub experience was a disaster.  In trying to be helpful and do school as she knows it, she changed  my lesson plans substantially to the point my kids began wiki-mailing me the second day from their iPods, complaining. They were not allowed to work collaboratively, the online activities were changed to worksheets, and they had no time to do the higher level thinking pieces I had left in my plans–so they spent three days doing worksheets on skills where they needed only some review.

My principal and I have had conversations about whether to get a sub when I need to be out, knowing that subs cannot run my classroom as I do. However, I also realize that as a resource teacher when my kids are unexpectedly back in the classroom, it does cause some issues for the classroom teacher, so we have hesitantly decided to get me a sub.

I am going in Monday asking for NOT getting me a sub.  My kids would have been better off in their own classrooms, using the classroom computers to follow the directions on the wiki quietly in the back or corner of the room. They would have been self-directed, gotten the work done, thought about the skills at a high level in evaluating themselves and their own learning, and been monitored by teachers who KNOW them!

PLUS, if they are allowed to work like this in their own classrooms, perhaps I can, as David Truss suggests in his post, Shifting Education,  “Nurture your colleagues like you nurture your students in your class.” I can nurture through examples–because I KNOW the teachers will look at the wiki.  I KNOW they will monitor what the kids are doing and perhaps get some ideas for their own classrooms! And, I also know they will see their kids being more self-directed than they see in their classrooms, because they are not allowed to direct their own learning there.

For an example of how I am trying to help students better understand learning processes, see an independent study group’s work for this week at The Four Question Strategy wiki.

Perhaps, if I set kids up in their classrooms to do “real” work, as described by Chris Lehmann in his recent post, “Shifting Ground” teachers will have new pictures painted for them of the possibilities in school.  Perhaps teachers will begin to understand that “It is time to stop thinking of school as preparation for real life and instead show students that the time they spend in school can be a vital and enriching part of their very real and very important lives.” (Chris in Shifting Ground).

Perhaps, then, my style of teaching and honoring kids’ desires to direct their own learning will spread beyond my classroom and teachers will shift to “take advantage of tools to help them and their students find their way.” ( a slight rewording from David Truss)

4 thoughts on “Shifting Frustrations

  1. Wow Paula,
    Very powerful!
    This exemplifies why we all need to shift AND it also shows how you took a frustration and are trying to making into a learning opportunity.
    You truly are a shifted educator and leader… exactly what I was trying to promote in my post!
    I love that your students rebelled and for lack of a better term ‘told’ on the sub. What’s great about shifting our schools is that we are also shifting our students and in many ways they are going to help us change education as they won’t tolerate the old ways of doing things when they now they can be empowered to lead their own learning by wonderful educators such as yourself.
    Through the frustrations comes a great learning opportunity, not just for you but also for your colleagues and students!

  2. Oh, David, you should have seen my first try at this. . it was SO sub bashing, it wasn’t funny. But, as I read it, no message came through, so I had to really think through what I wanted folks to get out of reading my words–and ultimately, what I wanted as well.

    Thus, the shift. . .

    And, yeah, while I enjoyed getting wiki-mail from my kids, I was SO feeling for them. I got one this morning that said, “I thought something was wrong because you’ve never had us do this many worksheets!”

    These are fifth graders who are learning that there are options to traditional schooling. In my own way, I am setting future teachers up to have to shift, too, by supporting our students to NOT tolerate old ways.

    We are all learning as we go along… and I just hope we can keep up with the kids and their tools!

  3. I hear you, Paula. Last year when I went to NH for a conference, I left plans for the sub, much as you did. My 7th and 8th graders were working on audios- movie trailers and PSAs. I didn’t want the sub to have to introduce anything new, so left her simple webquests for the 6th graders. When I got back, her note said that the 6th graders were great, but the older kids were “difficult”. Come to find out that she would not let them “talk”. They couldn’t do their work. No wonder they were “difficult”.

    I decided never to go away during the school year again.

    But, this year I have asked to go to educon. I have 6 classes on Fridays who will have a sub. Already trying to pace things so that I can leave and not worry that the kids will be stuck with a sub who won’t let them do their work. Still have no idea what I can leave a sub that won’t be sabotaged.

  4. Pingback: Tweets that mention Shifting Frustrations | Reflections of the TZSTeacher --

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *