Back in the days when I had a classroom, we created a Physical Science class for 9th graders to give them the proper content foundation for success in Biology, Chemistry, and other sciences.
We thought we were going to teach them content. Instead, those kids taught us how to really teach.
I didn’t like teaching the class at first. None of us (there were two other teachers) really did. It’s because the students weren’t what we expected. They weren’t learning at the rate that we wanted them to. They wouldn’t do their homework. They weren’t engaged during class. Many of them were failing–too many. Our principal talked to us about it, stating the problem in no uncertain terms: the failures meant something needed to change. He left it up to us to figure out what that change needed to be.
At first we grumbled. We blamed the students. How were we supposed to teach students that simply refused to learn, after all?
But then we decided to make some small changes. We could group differently. We needed labs at their reading level. More manipulatives to understand concepts. More alternative ways to show understanding. And those small changes led to wholesale changes like a focus on reading and literacy and learning. Like making sure our assessments were aligned to our learning targets and then making sure our instruction helped students actually be successful on the assessment rather than make the test a “gee if you know everything you’ll do OK” guessing game. Like writing a lot of our own formative and summative assessments, tweaking them and changing them over the years and learning how to write them so that they revealed the specific learning target with which students were struggling. Like helping students see what targets they hadn’t mastered yet and helping them acquire strategies to fix gaps in their understanding.
That’s a lot of work. It’s a lot more work than just saying that the students have a poor work ethic. But all that work, all that time spent revising and data analyzing and writing our own assessments because the junk from the textbook company just wasn’t good enough was completely and totally worth it. Every time we wrote our own labs and they didn’t work and we changed them to make them better–worth it. Every late night spent huddled around a lab table cutting out what seemed like 3 bazillion manipulatives–worth it. Every time we realized it wasn’t that the students weren’t learning but instead it was our assessments that actually weren’t measuring what we wanted them to learn–worth it.
And you know what? It made us much better teachers. When we were focused on helping students learn and willing the put in the work to do it, our students became better learners and we became better teachers.
Working for students makes everyone better. And that makes all that extra work worth it.