Where are my Students?
The school year has begun, and if you are an elementary school teacher, you are probably asking yourself one big question, “Where are my students?” On your roster, you have 22 names. The office assures you that you are responsible for each and every one. However, as you gaze around your classroom at any given time, there rarely seems to be a time when they are all there. Maria, Felipe and Maya are at ESL. Martin is at Speech. Thomas, Devon and Hannah are being tested by the RTI team. Sunie did not come in today. LaTisha is in the nurse’s office and Jason’s mother came to get him 10 minutes ago. So you currently have 12 students in your classroom. The grim fact is that you are supposed to be teaching a social studies lesson. That is what your lesson plans say. That is what your PLC talked about. However, half of your class is gone. Anything you teach will have to be retaught to the other ten students. What to do?
The Nature of Things
Believe me, I know the frustrations of being a classroom teacher. I lived it for 12 years. Before that, I knew the frustration of being an arts teacher. My music schedule was a love-hate relationship. The teachers loved getting 30 minutes off twice a week to go make copies, get reorganized and find the tops of their desks. They hated losing an hour a week of class time.
Let’s face it, today’s standards and expectations are nothing like the expectations of thirty years ago. Back then, elementary school students were expected to learn to read expressively on grade level, comprehend what they read, write legibly in print and cursive (for upper grades), spell appropriately, write words, then sentences, then paragraphs, then short reports, add, subtract, multiply, divide, do fractions, understand number lines, read charts, graphs and so forth. They read and understood a widening curriculum about their world, and learned some basic information about science. They were not expected to type, do algebra, search the internet, discuss the ramifications of globalization or explain the functions of mitochondria in animal cells nor the chemical processes involved in photosynthesis.
Then someone decided to move the curriculum down, and down and down until children who come into Kindergarten are already behind and nine-year-olds are expected to balance algebraic equations.This downward pressure to produce performance from young children means that teachers are left scrambling to teach multi-step processes to children with itty-bitty attention spans. When you add pull-outs to the mix, the classroom teacher is at a loss.
What Can a Teacher Do?
May I suggest…
- Try to relax and teach anyway.
- ESL and Speech and so forth actually help more than they hurt.
- I moved from music to 4th grade in the same school after they ran out of funds for music. That meant that I saw my own music students for several years in my classroom. Wow! I saw a really big difference in how my students processed information when they had music for years compared to the ones I had only had in K! Even I was thoroughly surprised. I placed a big importance on providing music for my 4th graders when I realized this fact. Arts are amazing for your student’s brains.
- Keep the main thing the main thing. Focus is important. An engaging lesson will get the point into your students’ minds much more quickly and effectively than all the drill and kill an hour can fill. Be creative.
- 80% of 5-year-olds cannot blend words or remember all the dolch list or reliably connect the lower-case letters b and d with their upper case counterparts. And it is absolutely normal. 80% of 9-year-olds do not understand variables and how to use them, nor can they explain why you place a zero in the ones place of the product when doing the standard two-digit multiplication algorithm. They cannot draw a conclusion based on inference, and they don’t understand why they need apostrophes…so they put them everywhere, just in case. And this is normal. Children are who they are, despite everything.
Teach Them Anyway
Just greet your day with a smile and teach. Teach your children the important stuff. Teach them the things they will need to succeed at the next levels of their education. Teach them what will help them with life. Do they need to know how to use eight different graphic organizers, or can you teach them three and show how others are similar so they can figure new ones out?
If some lesson is clearly beyond their brain development, don’t spend too much time on it. Help them strengthen something that is within their ability level instead. If they aren’t ready for inference, just work on characters, setting, problem and solution. Standardized tests are a numbers game anyway. If they are introduced to the curriculum, but don’t have time to fully understand it, they won’t do well on any of the questions. So they will get lower scores over all than they would if you had focused on the more doable tasks.
Finally, remember who you are and why you went through so much college education. You wanted to teach, remember? So teach. Just teach. You can do it. You are a teacher.