My first failures in the classroom led me to discover Homework Solutions that promotes self-advocacy in students. Students fear mistakes. As young as 4 years old, I have seen children fall apart because they made a mistake. By time these same children enter third grade, they either know the value of a mistake or the fear of mistakes affects their academic growth.
Einstein was questioned about his view of the 9,999 different failures he had in coming up with a filament that would make his light bulb work. His response, “They weren’t mistakes. They were all the ways it didn’t work. I was looking for the one way that it would. I finally found it.”
Every successful individual failed more times than they succeeded. I failed reaching students many times before I found the one way that worked and made sense to them.
I had an epiphany shorty after becoming a classroom teacher. No psychology class could prepare me for the students whose parents put pressure on them to succeed, but never taught them the skills necessary to do so. After several very stressful conferences in which parents told me how I wasn’t good at my craft or the students would understand how to do their homework and wouldn’t melt down each night because they were lost, I almost stopped teaching. But, I knew this was my life’s purpose and I had to do something to calm these anxious parents and change their view of me. Out of frustration I responded to the last parent, “I can’t read his mind. I don’t know what he knows and doesn’t know unless he tells me so.”
Wow! A break through happened in that moment! I was taught how to ‘teach,’ but never how to engage the students by teaching them how to learn and their role in that process.
The engaged looks of my students created a false sense of confidence in me. Instead of appearing engaged, many of the students had gone to what I termed, “LaLa Land’ where they felt safe and could avoid the feelings and stress related to being totally lost during instruction.
The day after my last parent conference centered around my inadequacy as a teacher, I had a heart to heart talk with my fifth and sixth graders. I shared some secrets about me that they might find helpful because I was responsible for their learning in my class. The following were things I shared:
- I am not a mind reader. I can’t tell if you are understanding what I am trying to teach you, or if you are lost in space, confused, and feeling like you are the only one that doesn’t understand. “I don’t know what you don’t know until you tell me what you don’t know. I don’t want to teach you what you know already, because it would be boring. I want to teach you what you don’t know. So you have to tell me.
- I do not judge you by the mistakes that you make. I judge you by what and whether or not you learn from each mistake.
- I don’t appreciate the phrase, “I don’t get it.” I do appreciate when students are specific about what they don’t know. Such as, “I don’t understand what the word antonym in number 7 means.”
- I expect students will ask me questions. I learn more from your questions than I can from a happy smile when you are confused. There are many ways of teaching a concept, and I will try all of them and maybe new ones until you reach understanding
- I like it when students come to me during office hours or before school to get clarification to make sure they are understanding what was taught. Sometimes students don’t find out they are confused until the evening when they start the homework and find out they should have asked more questions in class. I don’t mind if you leave a question blank as long as you have good questions to ask me about it. You may find when you ask a question, the answer pops up when you least expect it and then you don’t need me. But you are always welcome to come in to make sure your thinking is correct.
- If you learn or don’t learn, that is entirely up to you.
- Don’t leave class until you understand how to do every aspect of your assignments, because as of today, your parents can’t help you with your homework or projects. ( I added this to the list after a second grader enlightened me that the reason she wasn’t understanding instruction in class was due to the fact that she didn’t have to focus during instruction. Her mother retaught every concept at home after she had hissy fits).
- I expect you to fail many times, so you can succeed. I call this failing forward.
I shared this list with the parents and asked them to support my need for questions from their children. Since this event, I have added more secrets to the list and am offering it to you to share with your students. Understanding what the teachers need from students will help the children become more introspective, discover what they need from teachers, and learn to communicate effectively. When students with learning challenges can share what they need from the teacher, they will get their needs met. When gifted children share what they need to stay stimulated in class, they will have the best year they have ever had.
Teachers love it when their students advocate for themselves. I’ve taught every grade from kindergarten to college students and they all attribute their success to learning how to be self-advocates.
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Please leave a comment and share the successes your children have after learning to self-advocate. Please share ways your own students have advocated for themselves.