Monday, February 14, 2011

What Good Teachers Do… Part I

Good teachers organize.  A teacher I subbed for a few weeks ago helped illustrate that for me in a way that I found most entertaining.

I have subbed for this teacher several times during the past two years, and I love it.  She teaches 4th grade gifted students, and I always enjoy my day when I’m there.  That’s why I agreed to sub for her even though this particular day was only a half day job for the afternoon.  I try to avoid half days unless it’s for a teacher I like a lot.

I arrived in the classroom a little before noon, greeted the teacher and her students, and she chatted with me a bit as she was grabbing her things to leave for the day.   The class was working on a writing assignment.  Suddenly, she remembered something.  It all started with an innocent question:  “Kevin, where’s your homework?”

The students had turned their homework in earlier and, apparently, Kevin said he had done his but he needed to look for it.  Just before stepping out the door, she remembered to get it from him.

We both look over to Kevin, who is a nice enough kid, as he pulls out this MASSIVE binder with papers hanging out of it and stuffed haphazardly every which way.  It was a mess.  He starts sifting through the papers trying to find his homework.  I believed that he had done it, but that he’d lost it somewhere in the junky binder.  His teacher stood over him as she waited for him to find it.  After several minutes, when the homework still hadn’t surfaced, he started rummaging through his desk.

Then she literally said, “You must be joking!”  Peering down into his desk, she must’ve seen an awful mess.  There was no turning back for her now.  She put down her purse and bags, grabbed a trashcan, pulled up a seat next to him, and made him clean out the entire desk.

It was no longer even about finding the missing assignment.  It was about making Kevin find order in the midst of the chaos he created with his graded papers, drawings, school reminders that probably never made it to his parents, etc.  I peeked around at the rest of the class, and all of their desks were clean.  It was something the teacher actively promoted in the class, but Kevin was a bit resistant.  He had papers and trash in his desk from several weeks ago, before the Christmas break.  His teacher made him pull out every.single.thing, throw away what wasn’t necessary and straighten up everything that was left.  It was one of those “do it NOW” things, as I guessed he had been promising to clean it but hadn’t gotten around to it.  I heard the teacher mutter, “I should be checking your desk every week to make sure it’s clean.”

I was in awe, let me tell you.  This teacher was so committed to the idea of organization that, not only did she make it her own habit, she also demanded the same attitude from all of her students.  Whatever appointment or thing she had to do that afternoon, she left thirty minutes later than she intended because she wanted to make sure he organized everything to her high standards.  Once she finally got her things and left, Kevin’s desk and binder looked wonderful.  I don’t think he found his assignment, but he understood that he wouldn’t lose things so easily if he followed his teacher’s example.  Of course he is a bright kid, but she was not going to let him keep neglecting one of his responsibilities as a student:  stay organized.   Good teachers have to do it, as well as good students.

I admired her for what she did.  I know not every teacher can stay late or do things at the drop of a hat, but it certainly showed me her level of commitment for her students.


image: microsoft

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