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Time After Time: Making It Count with Each Student

by Mrs. Mimi
 | Apr 03, 2013
Being a teacher means embracing constant change. Yet all too often, teachers are told when, how and why to change. In this monthly column, Mrs. Mimi takes on creating change for herself by rethinking old practices and redefining teaching on her own terms.

p: woodleywonderworks via photopin cc
A few weeks ago, I was watching GREY’S ANATOMY. (Of course, I was watching it while feeling guilty because it was only 9:00 on a Thursday night and I probably/should have /could have been doing something teacher-y like grading papers, planning a lesson, or selecting books for an upcoming unit. Isn’t it crazy that we feel guilty about not working at so many times outside of the school day?)

Anyhow, on this particular episode of GREY’S ANATOMY, our beloved doctor friends were (spoiler alert!) getting a taste of what their work lives would be like under a regime of new leadership at the hospital. The new focus was on efficiency, getting to as many patients as possible with little concern to the quality of doctor-patient interaction and standardizing medical procedures to be efficient rather than (always) effective.

I suddenly sat up like a shot and declared, “This is one big metaphor for the current state of the classroom!” To which Mr. Mimi replied, “Not everything is about teaching.” To which I replied with a giant eye roll. Because it is. Everything is about or can be related to teaching.

Let’s take conferring with readers. I have never met a teacher who isn’t worried about the schedule for conferring with readers. When teachers take a look at how many minutes they actually have to confer with students and then consider how long it can take to have a strong conference with a child, they realize that they can only get to two or three students a day. This means there is essentially no way they can work with every single student in their class over the course of a week. Cue the panic and a bit of guilt mixed in with some anxiety about what the administration will think.

But how can we teach anything well with the nagging feeling that we should really be moving on, checking off more boxes, and “getting to” more children? What does it even mean to just “get to” someone? Is that all we can expect to give to our students now? Is that what they deserve? Is it what we deserve?

In my experience, when I am conflicted about my practice, I am not at my best. I am distracted and unfocused and when I think about it, even the 4.5 minutes I spent with a particular student were a waste of time.

The truth is, working with students in small settings (such as the one-on-one conference or a small group) is what makes the biggest difference in a child’s learning. It is how we tailor our instruction to meet the individual needs of the wide range in our classrooms. Not only is this point based in research, which tends to make more people sit up and listen, but it is plain common sense.

Classrooms are busy and getting busier. They are big and getting bigger. But those factors are out of our control, so why do we have to alter what we know is best for children in the name of being more efficient? We know bigger classes are not necessarily better classes, so let’s not compound the issue by rushing through our time to develop our relationship with and address the needs of our students, no matter how many we have.

Teachers have a lot to do, a lot to cover, and even more to test. Therefore, I think it is more important than ever that we slow down and embrace the conference as a time to savor the moment and be present with just one little friend at a time. It is what they deserve. It is what we deserve, too.

Mrs. Mimi is a pseudonymous teacher who taught both first and second grades at a public elementary school in New York City. She's the author of IT'S NOT ALL FLOWERS AND SAUSAGES: MY ADVENTURES IN SECOND GRADE, which sprung from her popular blog of the same name. Mimi also has her doctorate in education from Teachers College, Columbia University.

© 2013 Mrs. Mimi. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.

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