There are fellas in the flock.
Clay Watkins of Making the Days Count has been a friend of Coach Daddy just about from the start. With a blog name inspired by a Muhammad Ali quote and wise words, Clay has become one of my favorite dudes to read – and answer comments from.
He’s a teacher who learns as much from his students as he teaches them.
Learning Never Ends – It’s Fair Trade
I just finished my 16 year in the classroom as a professional education. Before that, I was an amateur educator working in the restaurant business. I have learned a lot of lessons along the way – some the hard way, some the easy way, but all of the lessons I’ve learned have polished me into who I am in today.
Next year, I’ll be a slightly different person because of the kids come into my room. I teach them and they teach me, even though they don’t know it – It’s a fair trade.
Before I became a teacher, I mean, a real teacher, I thought I knew what teachers did. But, I was wrong.
I teach middle school kids. I use the word ‘kids’ because they are kids – they are 13- and 14- year-olds. This year will be the fortieth anniversary of my 8th grade year. Yeah, I am old, though I’d prefer to use the word experienced or seasoned.
In 16 years, I have seen a lot in my classroom. I have had three parents pass away – two from breast cancer. When I first started teaching my oldest, W, was 18 months old. This fall, he’ll be a senior in high school. Now I have two kids, the youngest, O, will be in 7th grade next year. My kids and my students keep growing and learning and yet, I stay the same age, almost like a state a frozen animation.
At the end of the year, some students ask me to sign their yearbook. I don’t just sign or write – ‘have a good summer.’ I try to make what I write meaningful to both of us. In years past, I’ve written notes referencing the idea to make all of your summer days count with the number of summer days in the inscription. This year I used a quote from James Thurber,
“It is better to ask some of the questions than know all the answers.”
That is the gist of what I do, what teachers do. To make kids wonder, think about things they’ve never considered, to ponder, to ask questions because in doing so they gain knowledge, but they also generate more questions. It’s a vicious cycle – learning and growing; the more you have the more you want. Learning never ends.
Much of my learning comes from mistakes I have made. Sometimes the mistakes are caused by misconceptions, and other times just plain stupidity. In my second year of teaching, I moved grade levels and content areas, so in essence I was a first year teacher, all over again.
I had taught sixth grade the first year and I was promoted to seventh grade the next year. That August I had 40 or so of the same students and 110 new ones; for some it was heaven, for other, it was a nightmare.
I decided to incorporate current events in my classroom and assigned my students a “Geography in the News” article. The assignment was for the students to find the article in a newspaper, write a summary, and then present to the class.
The first quarter was awful, downright painful at times. But, I persevered and stuck to my guns – big mistake. The mistake I made was that I assumed my kids had the background to make sense of the article its own.
I remember several articles that year and one article in particular that taught me the lesson. The student presented her article to the class, she was a good student and did very well, but as she presented it was clear she had no real understanding of the ideas in the news article, which was about Fair Trade coffee. In her defense, most folks did not know either.
I read her summary and marked her paper with an A. A couple of mornings later, I was in line and at Starbuck’s and saw they were offering coffee samples – there was sample bag of Fair Trade Certified, so I grabbed a sample and brought it with me to class.
I was returning papers and I returned hers with the sample. At first, she looked puzzled, then a smile crossed her face, and she couldn’t contain it – she turned to her friend and began to explain what she had and what she had learned.
She understood and I had learned, too. It would take another quarter, but I stopped doing current events articles in that way. It doesn’t work and the assignment isn’t real, it’s just another ‘hoop’ for kids to jump through.
I have created some assignments that I think are amazing, but sometimes the assignment is just too difficult and doesn’t demonstrate what the student has learned. I have assigned plenty of these. This year I taught science and I learned plenty.
At the end of the year, my assignments were real. Not copied, or borrowed, but real. The physics final included a word problem about the new One World Trade Center Observation Deck elevators.
The One World Trade Center opened the weekend before the final on Friday, May 29th. My students didn’t understand the significance of the opening – they were born between September 2000 and August 2001.
9/11 is another day, to America who remember the day, it’s more; which is why and needed to provide the background they lacked. Of course, the kids knew the formulas and how to apply them; or at least most did, but they needed to sift through the information and decide what data should be used to solve the problem.
It took me most of the weekend to gather the information to write the problem – I needed to know the elevator weight – empty and full, I knew the distance it travelled and the time it took get to the observation deck. I wrote the problem and came back to it, twice. I checked the math and the physics to make sure I was correct.
On the day of the final, I gave the students the problem, then, showed the following videos. One World Trade Center is built in the site of the first two World Trade Center towers, which were destroyed on 9/11.
In less than 14 years, new buildings have risen from the ashes – One World Trade Center dominates the New York City skyline at 1776 feet. Here is a time lapse video of the building’s construction:
Also, the kids needed to know about the elevator.
and, the video perspective riders see as they travel up.
The explanations took time, but they helped my students have a frame of reference.
The elevator trip 47 second trip begins 55 feet below street level and ends 1254 feet above the city. The average speed is 27.85 feet/sec or almost 19 miles per hour. That’s movin’ for an elevator.
After the video, the students had plenty of questions, but quickly got down to business and nailed the problems. I could see the sense of accomplishment when they handed the final to me.
I too, felt a sense of accomplishment – because not only did I challenge my students, I challenged myself. We both learned, it’s a fair trade.
School’s been out for a week and I’m a week closer to next year. It is always good to look back and reflect, but it’s even better to look ahead and work hard to get there; because where you’ve been explains why you are here, and what happens today dictates where you’ll be.
Learning never ends – it’s a fair trade. Today is gonna be a great day – I know it and can feel it, so I’d better jump up, jump in and seize the day. Making the Days Count, one day at a time, one lesson taught, one lesson learned, it’s never ending.
Is there a lesson you learned while teaching someone?