Friday, March 3, 2017

SOL #3: Observations

This March writing challenge is organized by Two Writing Teachers
I was observed today.  You teachers out there know what I'm talking about.  It's when your boss walks in and sits down, as unobtrusively as possible, and you continue teaching, suddenly appallingly aware of every stupid thing you say.

It was an "informal, drop-in" observation, which takes off some of the pressure, but also left me a bit off my game.  It didn't help that it was my tiny class (six super struggling readers), that one was absent (five now), and that one was claiming he'd gotten a concussion yesterday and needed to go to the office (four?  seriously?).  Added to that the fact that they are a day ahead of the other class, so  I'd been planning a bit of a slack day, where I'd spent extended time with our read-aloud and not use The Reading Program.

But, as I told the kids, my boss was there in that period specifically because he wants to see The Reading Program in action, so we went ahead and got out our materials and went through a lesson.

"I hate this program," moaned one of my kids.  "It's so BORING."

"Are you getting anything out of it?" asked the principal.

"Yeah.  I am," said the complainer.

"There you go, then," said my boss.  And I made a mental note to give the kid a piece of candy next time I see him, because who knows if he's getting anything out of it?  I think he was just trying to give me some support in front of the boss.

What became most noticeable to me, in that strange meta-state you get in where you're observing yourself being observed, is that this class, while tiny, is stacked with kids impacted by trauma. And I don't mean the alleged concussion.  The stories these boys tell me nearly every day are of chaos: illness, evictions, death, custody battles, immigration concerns, crime, and more.  "I'm so tired; my brother had an episode last night and started punching me while I was asleep," says one.

"Our truck caught fire yesterday."

"Can I check my phone?  My little brother is in the hospital."

"My aunt just died, and my dad is a mess."

"You're fourteen?  Huh.  You must've gotten held back too."

"I wish my parents didn't tell me I have to choose who I want to live with.  No matter what I say, someone's going to be hurt."

The kid who was absent today is fighting depression, and rumor has it his parents are too.  There are days when he won't lift his head off the desk all day.   Other days he won't talk, and communicates instead with notes on a whiteboard.  The other kids find this a bit puzzling, but not, like really weird.  They roll with it.

These boys are the ones who haven't learned much in seven, eight, nine years of school.  There's the one whose family keeps telling him mechanics don't have to know how to read and write, so don't worry about it.  There's the one who learned Spanish as a second language from his ESL classmates when he came here speaking only an indigenous Mexican language.  There's the one who's bounced back and forth from parent to parent depending on who's clean at the moment.  There's the one who is still struggling with his recent diabetes diagnosis.  Every single one of them is carrying a burden.  And don't even get me started on their competitive ADHD stories.

I'm not sure what all my boss observed.  His notes to me commented on my patience and connection with the students.  Part of me is pleased, and part of me wants to roll my eyes.  How much difference can I make?  Their lives are so tumultuous.  Sure, I can provide a safe and structured place for 47 minutes a day, but what real difference does The Reading Program, or our read-alouds, really make?
I feel like in some ways, I'm just observing the kids myself.

I wish those in power could do the same.


  1. This was so honest and real. I've been telling my student teacher you can have the best planned lesson but kids are kids and the unexpected will happen. I was being observed during a learning walk this week. The Literacy coach and 4 teachers watching me, plus my sub and the student teacher. One student began crying in the lesson. He's worried about his family being deported. What could I possibly say to make that ok?

    1. That is so upsetting, Kathleen! I wish people could SEE the kids whose lives they are affecting. They count too.

  2. This is an awesome post. It’s great that you’re so understanding with your students. I had depression when I was a teenager, and some of my teachers were less-than-patient with it. When they got angry at me, I got angry at me, too.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

    1. I think even the best of us unconsciously shame kids from time to time. There's a lot to keep up with in the typical classroom, and sometimes we lose the trees in the forest. "Just snap out of it and do what you're here to do!" is the easiest response. I just think the longer I'm alive, the more empathy I develop, through repeated exposure to various degrees of shittiness in the lives of people I love.

  3. As someone who works with special needs kids, I can totally identify with what you are saying. I only hope that I offer my students even half of what you offer yours. You truly understand what matters, you make genuine connections, and you care about them in a way that few do. I commend you on all the you do everyday - it DOES matter!!!!


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