Saturday, March 1, 2014

Slice of Life - Gaining Perspective

Slice of Life is sponsored on Tuesdays by Two Writing Teachers. For the month of March we are posting a slice each day on our blog. Join in! 

Teaching is so much more than checking off a list of standards. Teaching is about relationships. It is about taking kids where they are and helping them to become better people. It is about teaching my students in this tiny town all about this huge world we live in. Teaching is about watching my kids, seeing what they need, and stepping in and providing that lesson and a bit of perspective.

This week I watched my students and my heart sank just a bit. Looking over their work, talking to my colleagues, I knew we had hit a slump. Their work was far from their best efforts. Late work was coming in; shoulders were shrugged when I would ask what was going on. I watched and wondered. In times like these I believe we have a choice. We can shake our fists to the sky; lament that kids today are spoiled, entitled, lazy, etc. OR we can teach. We can weave together lessons designed to make them think, reflect, and grow. I choose the latter.

Fun for Louis is a channel I enjoy on YouTube. Louis is a video blogger who loves traveling. He has an easygoing attitude that makes me smile. This week he has traveled to Kenya. He is helping some friends work on a school there.

On Thursday I showed my students a clip from this video (around the 5:00 minute mark to 5:45.)

We talked about the beauty of the human spirit. How kindness lives within us all.

Then we watched this video clip (around 0:23 minute mark to 7:00.)

We talked about the differences between our lives and theirs. About how the simple things in life – playing, singing, giving to others – can bring us the most joy. The kids had insightful comments and I left our day smiling.

Then on Thursday night I went home and saw Louis’s latest video. I decided to show it to my class on Friday. (We watched from the beginning to 6:10.)

My students were fascinating to watch. My carpet area is ringed with tables they sit at. When I have a mini-lesson, I ask them to come to the carpet, but also have several kids who would prefer to stay at their table. I’m fine with that; I just want them to be comfortable.

In each class I stood back and watched. Kids would begin to view the video and gradually every child who sat in the back would quietly move their chair forward. It is almost as if they had to sit with the group to experience this.

There were gasps, murmurs, and some quiet talking at various points in the video. I knew they were processing what they saw. When we stopped it, I turned on the lights. In each of my three classes I asked the same question, “Why would I show you this video?”

Their comments ranged from:

We need to appreciate what we have.

They value education and some of us are wasting our opportunity.

The theme of that video would be perseverance and the joy in the human spirit.

Their stories aren’t found in books, but in their songs and dances.

They have a joy for life, in spite of having a hard one.

That video reminds me to be grateful for every day.

I love fifth graders. They immediately want to help, to empty their piggy banks and find these children. We talked about their comments and how important education truly is. I tied the lesson – of course – back to homework, the opportunity we have all been given, what it means to do your best, and the pride you can feel when you do. I also built on their comments – my favorite being about stories. I shared with my homeroom a favorite quote from C. Alexander London:

It’s a fact: people can survive without books. People can even have wonderful, full lives without books. But they can’t long endure without community, and community is built on stories.

Stories, education, community. I want my students to know what the world is like beyond the limits of our tiny town. I want them to feel the desire to do well, but also to do good. When I watched my students today, I knew our future was in good hands. These kids care, they are compassionate, they are loving. They simply need to be reminded of it sometimes, and be given the chance to gain a little perspective. I think they got it today, I know I did.