Climbing into their Skin
“When Atticus tells Scout to put herself in Miss Caroline’s shoes and see things from her perspective, it is a turning point for Scout. Just like it should be a turning point for us. How can we stop and take a moment to walk in someone else’s shoes? How can we follow Atticus’ advice, ‘You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.’”
This is what I find myself telling my 8th period in the minutes before the bell, as they are gathering up their stuff and moving on to weekend plans. What a difficult lesson for 9th graders in the midst of hormonal and brain changes to comprehend. Heck, I can’t even follow Atticus’ sage advice most of the time.
It’s times like these, when I feel the most wobbly.
When I don’t stop to think like a 9th grader, to think like someone who is juggling six classes, many of which are not connected to life outside the classroom, I lose something valuable. I have the chance to make a small difference in their lives through teaching them amazing books or writing skills that they will use no matter their vocation. Yet, sometimes, I forget the kid behind the name on the paper. I become so focused on curriculum and lesson plans and formative and summative assessments, that something gets lost. I become wobbly.
I was reminded of this during parent/teacher conferences where I saw the lives that many of my students lead outside my classroom. They come from such diverse backgrounds. Some of my students are worried about the future and their GPA and are stressed as fifteen-year-olds. Their perspective is that an A is the only way to succeed, and this has become their main focus. Other students have younger siblings they are in charge from the minute school gets out, so instead of homework, they are making dinner or keeping their nine-year-old brother off the couch until Mom comes home. Still others have such intense club sports that they eat dinner in the car and practice until 10:00 at night, leaving little down time let alone room for adequate sleep. Some students have to find balance between two completely different households because of divorce situations, and one of my students is readjusting to structure with his grandma because both his parents are in jail.
Hearing about the real lives of my students makes me wobbly. But it also make me more determined to be a positive forty-four minute moment in their lives.
What all of this means to me is that my lessons and instruction need to be purposeful, and I need to continually be learning new ways to approach my practice of teaching. Why am I doing what I’m doing? And how does it not only connect to our Core Standards, but to my students’ lives? I need to think outside the box, and my practice needs to include units like the 20% Project –where students are given 20% of the class time to work on their own projects–and using graphic novels for literature circles. Both of these teach critical thinking skills but give my students choice and a way to show learning in different ways. I need to continue my own learning through Idaho Coaching Network and attending conferences affiliated with my practice. From conferences I can learn new practices like teaching rules of notice through pictures (thank you, Jeff Wilhelm) or find different ways to approach Shakespeare so that my students can make connections.
I need to be less concerned about every detail of curriculum to be covered and more concerned with making sure my students feel cared for and secure. I know that the books we read are just a small part of their day, but I want to make the most of those parts. I want to show them how reading can be a wonderful way to learn about new places and times right from your couch. And I want to show them that writing well will help them in any future endeavor. I want to make them feel less wobbly and more steady. They deserve someone trying to climb into their skin and walking around in it.
West Jr. High School