Teaching and Learning: A Shared Experience

A student left this in place of answering the last question on the final

A student left this in place of answering the last question

I like to think that I have a lot of control of my classroom. I decide the structures, the learning activities, the schedule. We have tests when I say. Shoot, the students need my permission to use the restroom. That’s control, right?

But I don’t see everything.

This week, another group of young people ended their time with me and will get 13 weeks to rest up before they resume their math experiences with someone else. I collected their exams. I gave some high fives, some bro-hugs, and some A-frames. I sat down to grade them completely focused on the amount of grading I had in front of me. I graded. I graded. I graded. The students were gone. I remained.

That was my experience.

But 100 students this year didn’t have my experience. We spent an hour sharing the same space, but they each had their own experience. One student chose to share his experience with me.

This was a nice student, but he struggled. Geometry wasn’t his strength. He and I worked together last year, but he struggled. Once again, geometry wasn’t his strength. He and I had to work together again this year. More geometry. It still wasn’t his strength. He was willing to try, but he wanted to have his own experience. He had lots of strengths. He’s clever and witty and realistic. He has a pleasant personality and an exceptional sense of timing with his off-task comments. He reads people well and he is willing to take responsibility. He knows that he has a hard time staying motivated to do geometry. Plus he’s not a morning person, which was inconvenient because I am (I mean, I really am) and we worked together at 7:35 in the morning.

He missed a lot of school. He dealt with some illnesses in the middle of the year. He was struggling again. I kept reminding him of what he needed to do. I occasionally emailed his mom. She stopped in once. I didn’t feel like I was targeting him. I was just doing my job. That was my experience.

He eventually learned enough geometry, offered enough proof and now will move on to Algebra II. I was happy for him. That was my experience.

When I graded his final exam, I saw the note (the one from the picture at the top). He didn’t answer the final question. He wrote them note instead. Probably wanted to make sure I would read it. (See, clever, isn’t he?) It showed me a window into his experience.

“I had a great 2 years of geometry. Thanks for not giving up on me.”

It surprised me. How many students who repeat a class (with the same instructor) would describe it at the end as “a great two years”? That seems counterintuitive. But it wasn’t my experience. It doesn’t have to make sense to me. It was his experience. He chose to share it with me.

Not sure how I’m going to conclude this. Just thought I’d share. I know I’m not special. I know that teachers all over the country have similar experiences all the time. I hope they share, too. I like to read them. It reminds us that we aren’t simply peddling content. We are managing the experiences for collections of young people every day. And as long as we remember that, I think we’ll be okay.

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