By far one of the biggest differences I’ve encountered this summer is the attitudes of my 7th and 8th graders, compared to the mindsets of the kindergarten students I had been around for the past 9 months. I realize I’ve been spoiled by the eagerness of little minds who are at just the beginning of their education careers with so much ahead of them. They haven’t been tainted by frustrations or failures or bad experiences in general, for the most part. But my summer students are a much different story, as I would guess any middle school teacher would agree.
It’s probably not fair to truly compare these students while teaching them during the summer, considering none of them has gushed feelings of loving spending time in a classroom when they thought they would be on break. However, I know some of my students are holding themselves back from making great progress in this little amount of time. The attitudes they bring to class, for some of them it’s the thought that they don’t really need to be there, and for others it’s the thought that they would just rather be anywhere else, has been affecting their engagement and success.
I believe it’s my job as the teacher to find ways to motivate the students, but this has been a struggle for me in such a short amount of time. It’s disappointing and simply irritating to try to teach a lesson while not getting effort or participation from the receiving end. I need to get to know my students more to find out what it will take to motivate them and what it will take to have them come to class, or at least sit in class, with a positive attitude.
Sometimes getting to know them opens up a world that sheds a new light on a student and explains those attitudes. Just in the past week, through talks of weekend plans and 4th of July celebrations, I learned while some kids had bottle rocket wars, others spent more quiet time. One student shared with me that she couldn’t do much because she needed to be at home with her dad who has cancer. As much as I tried to be understanding and comforting, it was interesting to see the reactions of other students to such somber news. None made any comments or asked questions, and most looked unsure of how to look or what to say next. It was a general discomfort. Days earlier a student shared news of her mother’s cancer, though she was telling me about her mother’s survival. She was so proud and excited to talk about this heavy family event, so much strong emotion and crisis for a 7th grader to handle.
I’m reminded of my own emotional baggage I carry into the classroom — sometimes it’s just stress and sometimes it has absolutely nothing to do with class. As an adult, it’s challenging but you learn to check your emotions and mindset at the door so that you get your job done. I’m not always great at this, but at least I’m aware. Maybe this is a solution for some of my students. Maybe they just have never been taught and haven’t learned how to deal with some of their realities, and life at school seems insignificant. I’ve learned that many, probably most, of my students have jobs, serious jobs. They have responsibilities outside of school that are just as demanding.
Perhaps with continued patience and more understanding, I can give a little more and receive a little more, because I know they’re capable, as am I, of so much more.