I have the privilege of teaching French to children in grades 9 through 12. Some of you may be shaking your head and asking how I manage to do this. I’ll tell you how. It takes a lot of prayer and patience. When I first began teaching eight years ago, students were different. Or maybe it was just where I lived. I began teaching in Seneca, SC right after graduating from the great Clemson University. On average, I may have taught one or two students who truly gave me a hard time for whatever reason. However, blatant disrespect was just uncommon for my classroom. I generally had pretty good kids.
Four years ago, I relocated to Georgia. Let’s just say I had a huge culture shock. I certainly cried my fair share of tears that first year. Just think of Hilary Swank in the movie Freedom Writers. Yeah, that was me–or at least that’s who some of the kids compared me to. Yet, unlike Hilary Swank, I still don’t think I ever hit my stride with the majority of students for a looong time.
What changed? Why did teaching become so unbearable? Was I just not cut out to do it anymore? That’s what I thought anyways. It wasn’t until this past semester that my passion for teaching was rekindled. My department is fortunate enough to have a new department head who is data-driven, goal-oriented, and student-centered. In the simplest of terms, she knows her stuff. Because of her, I no longer teach traditionally. Instead, I do something called a flipped classroom. If you’ve never heard of this, watch the video below. Lots of colleges and universities are moving to this style of teaching. In short, my students take notes at home using the Cornell note taking system. In class, they practice what they learned at home in groups, pairs, and individually. This allows me to have more one-on-one time with students, in particular those who struggle the most.
As an extracurricular teacher, I get the whole “I’m never gonna need French” speech. And you know what? Maybe they’re right. However, there is far more to my class than simply learning to speak and understand French. What happened to taking pride in your work? What happened to embracing a challenge? What happened to developing good study habits? What about being excited by mastering something you struggled with initially?
In all of this, I still believe any child can learn and be successful. To me, children are like adults; they need to feel loved and understood. In my experience, when students feel as if you truly care, there is almost no explanation for why they wouldn’t at least try to complete your assignments. I have yet to meet a student who genuinely wants to fail. Regardless of his opinion of French, the student sees the value in passing and eventually graduating.
Here’s a question I like to ask on occasion: Who’s responsible for learning these days anyway? With the pressure to increase graduation rates, it’s no wonder why so many kids are being pushed through the system without having obtained an adequate education. Teachers feel they will lose their jobs or have bad evaluations if they don’t pass a certain percentage of students. Students know this, too. So, many opt to not do any work until the very end. Sort of like a hail Mary play. “If I do these three assignments, Mrs. Madame has to pass me.” It is unreal how many students think like this.
So, how do we overcome this flawed thinking pattern? How do we educate our kids anymore? Personally, I am a firm believer in maintaining high expectations. Yet, my motto for the past few years has been to simply meet the students where they are, and push them to where you need or want them to be. Am I a perfect teacher? Heck no. Do I make mistakes? I sure do! But you know what? I still have a little bit of life in me, and I plan to continue to make a difference in the lives of every student that walks into my classroom. It doesn’t matter what statistics say, and it doesn’t matter what society thinks. Like Whitney Houston, “I believe the children are our future.” Unlike the many who have given up on our students, I dare to dream. I dare to dream that each and every one of our students is capable of achieving their inner greatness if given the chance to do so. Aren’t you glad everyone didn’t give up on you?