Whether new or experienced teachers, we all face challenges as we enter the classroom to teach students the literacy skills they need in the 21st century. NCTEs Guideline More than a Number: Why Class Size Matters, which focuses on the challenge of overcrowded classrooms, describes the situation well:
The Standards for the English Language Arts describe and clarify what students should learn in English Studies and Language Arts—reading, writing, speaking, listening, viewing, and visually representing—to be literate in today’s world. This expanded definition of literacy occurs at a time when classrooms are more culturally diverse than ever, when technology and cyberspace bid for schools’ attention and dollars, and when employers are calling for more and more highly skilled workers.These challenges make our jobs tougher than ever, yet we return to the classroom every year, knowing that the joys outweigh the challenges.
Annual Convention Speaker Jonathan Kozol, featured in this weeks Boston Globe story “Schooled in Persistence: Kozol Still National Conscience on Education,” speaks to some of these challenges in his new book Letters to a Young Teacher, in which he “gently guides a first-year teacher into the joys and challenges and passionate rewards of a beautiful profession.” As I thought about Kozols mentorship of the young teacher and the challenges we face as we enter the classroom, I was inspired to share a story of my own.
One of my biggest joys in the classroom is what I call “the light bulb moments”—those moments when you’re working with students and you see their sudden understanding of a new idea or concept. In cartoons, it’s that moment when light bulbs appear above characters’ heads. Those are the moments I live for in the classroom—those moments when a student “gets it.”
I remember in particular William’s light bulb moment. My first-year college comp class in Spring 1993 focused on the ways that the writer’s perspective affects the meaning and language of a message. Students read pieces by Jane Tompkins, Harriet Jacobs, and Alice Walker, and we talked about how writing takes place in a social context. I asked the class to do some fairly complex and sophisticated thinking, and their writing showed that they were struggling a bit with the task.
One day in the middle of this course, William was slow to gather his belongings and leave, so I asked him if he had a question. He stepped up to the desk and said, “I’ve been watching some of the TV about that thing in Waco. You seen it?” He was referring to the ATF raid on the Branch Davidian ranch near Waco, Texas, and the subsequent siege that was still underway there. “I was writing about it in my journal,” he continued. “You see different reports and stuff on different channels.” I nodded, and he went on, “When they talk to the witnesses, they say different things about it and it has to do with what they care about. That’s just like those things we’ve been reading. That’s what you’re talking about, right?” A light bulb moment! He didn’t know it, but William had had a light bulb moment as he wrote that journal entry and made the connections between what he had been reading and current events.
Williams light bulb moment remains one of my fondest memories of teaching. As we re-enter the classroom this fall, I hope we all have more joyful moments than challenging ones. If you have stories of joys from your teaching experiences, please share them in the comments. Every teacher loves to read of classroom successes!
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